Should You Watch the New Shows About Diagnosing Diseases?

Experts find pros and cons to TV shows crowdsourcing for medical answers.

Watching new rare disease TV shows

Two new shows are bringing medical mysteries to life by featuring real patients in search of diagnoses and inviting physicians and average people to chime in on possible solutions.

Among the healthcare community, reviews are mixed for “Diagnosis” on Netflix and Ann Curry’s “Chasing the Cure,” which use crowdsourcing and social media in the search for answers.

“Especially at a time of decreased trust in science and expertise, “Diagnosis” at times seems to be reinforcing a culture of ‘Dr. Google’ where all opinions are equally valid,” Aliza Narva wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Narva is a registered nurse, lawyer and director of ethics at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Bon Ku, of Philadelphia’s Jefferson University Hospital, has been featured as a physician expert on “Chasing the Cure.” He told the Inquirer that he sees the positive side, such as diagnosing a mom and daughter with an ultra-rare disease. Ku said his TV role differs from what he does as an on-staff doctor at the hospital. He says the show supplements the patient’s healthcare, rather than replacing in-person care.

A Critique from a Med Student

Third year medical student Ramie Fathy wrote an opinion piece for medical website Medscape to offer his take. Fathy said he appreciates how “Diagnosis” depicts various diseases with 3D models and helps explain and normalize conditions for lay people. But the show can make medical practitioners appear incompetent, he wrote. Fathy was inspired to develop some data – complete with a pie chart – that found most cases on the show end up with a diagnosis that had been suggested by a previous healthcare provider.

“Diagnosis” spun out of a popular medical mysteries column in the New York Times authored by Dr. Lisa Sanders, an associate professor of internal medicine and education at Yale School of Medicine and an attending physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In an interview with Bustle.com, Sanders said doctors can’t know everything and crowdsourcing opens up a promising new resource non-physicians who have encountered similar symptoms before in themselves or friends and family.

"It’s clear from some of the earliest research that’s been done on diagnosis that the person or doctor most likely to get the right answer is the person or doctor who has seen something before,” Sanders told Bustle. “It’s also true among family members or people who aren’t doctors, if you’ve seen something and have experienced it, you notice it when you see it again."