“I’m Not a Doctor, But I Play One on TV” – A Role for Clustered Health Information Tools


Novoseek just blogged about Hugh Laurie, an actor famed for his starring role on House MD.

Fox TV: House M.D.

House M.D.

To say that the character is notorious for an acerbic personality and poor bedside manner is highlighted on the web page by such quotes from the show as, “You gonna trust me? I lie about everything.” That line being associated with healthcare information and a (even fictional) healthcare provider is … wow. Worrisome would be putting it mildly. What sort of message does this give healthcare consumers about what to expect, patient-provider communication, how to define provider expertise, etcetera? To be honest, I haven’t watched the show, so I am taking this out of context, and possibly worrying unnecessarily, but it is still an odd an unhelpful message to have up front and center.

One way to counterbalance that is through the actions of the actor whose fame is associated with the role. Does he agree with the character he portrays, or does he use that fame an notoriety to communicate an alternative message?

Here is a snippet from a biography of Hugh Laurie.

Laurie says he’s still learning the nature of the complex and contradictory House, whose medical mastery is countered by life challenges, including a leg disability, a reliance on painkillers and seemingly non-existent social skills. He admires House for not worrying about what others think of him.
USA Today: Hugh Laurie: http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2004-11-15-hugh-laurie_x.htm

Admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone and during a guest appearance on The Tonight Show that he once tried Vicodin as part of his preparation for the role of Dr House. Has struggled with severe clinical depression off and on over the course of his life, and continues to receive regular treatment from a psychotherapist. He stated in an interview that he first concluded he had a problem while on a movie set in 1996, when he realized that the car chase he was filming neither excited nor frightened him (he said that he felt, in fact, bored). “Boredom,” he commented in an interview on Inside the Actors Studio, “is not an appropriate response to exploding cars.”
House – Wiki: Hugh Laurie: http://house.wikia.com/wiki/Hugh_Laurie

Sounds like he is making an effort to learn more as part of his role preparation, and using his personal health experience for insight into the role, both of which are a good things! This is especially true when compared with some of the responses about role preparation from some of his colleagues on the show.

Q: It was announced that House would be getting the prime post-Super Bowl slot this year, which must be very exciting. Have you started any preparations, or do you have any idea what kind of thing you’re gonna do? Because that’s a very high-profile kind of place to be.
A: Fantastic. Is it gonna take place in my house? What kind of preparation do I need to get? Like, Doritos? What do you mean?

Exclusive Interview: ‘House’ Star Robert Sean Leonard: http://www.buddytv.com/articles/house/exclusive-interview-house-star-12201.aspx

So I am very excited to hear that Hugh has extended his role preparation research into the health literature, and similarly has recognized that the “hard core” professional literature might be a bit challenging. I don’t know how he is using it to prepare for his role, but here is how I imagine the process going.

Let’s take the example of Dr. House’s drug habit. Here is a simple Google search.

Google search: doctor drug abuse

Google search: doctor drug abuse


Google search: doctor drug abuse: http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=doctor+drug+abuse

Not very helpful. Mostly about doctors saying what to do about drug abuse, and very little about doctors who abuse drugs. So let’s imagine Hugh asks a doctor where they would look for information like this, and the doctor of course says PubMed.

Pubmed Search: doctor drug abuse

Pubmed Search: doctor drug abuse


Pubmed Search: doctor drug abuse

Much better. Hugh looks at the list and changes his search because addicted seems to be a better word. This gets even better results.

Pubmed Search: addicted doctor

Pubmed Search: addicted doctor


Pubmed Search: addicted doctor

There are actually some good articles about physicians with drug abuse problems and addictions. So far so good, except that folk working in healthcare are well aware how incredibly easy it is for people without a trained background to misunderstand what they seeing. Think of it in whatever is your own area of expertise. If you are a dog trainer or architect or plumber, you can look at that dog or blueprint or leak and see information that is completely meaningless without that trained context. Also, Hugh probably finds it a bit of a waste of time to sort through the articles, read the abstracts, find the articles, yada yada yada. All he really needs is the main concepts and a couple really powerful stories and some imagination. Maybe Pubmed isn’t the best place for that?

I don’t know how Hugh would find the next level of tool that would be useful, aside from asking his friendly neighborhood expert librarian of course, but let’s pretend he did find a visual, clustering or concept-suggestion search engine. I could spend some time here giving other examples, but let’s just cut to the chase and assume he somehow magically finds Novoseek.

Novoseek: addicted doctors

Novoseek: addicted doctors

Novoseek search: addicted doctors

For someone like Hugh, this is probably a lot more useful than going directly to Pubmed. Look at what you get, especially the left bar. Novoseek clusters the main concepts and gives you more terms. Useful terms like Methadone, Tilidine, benzodiazepines, Nicotiana tabacum, Cannabis sativa, pain, withdrawal, humiliation and “personality problem” (which is another issue for Dr. House, ahem). Now there are some words an actor or writer could sink his teeth into. Issues. Images. And fast. You could get to this in Pubmed, but it would take longer. This sort of tool is also a real time saver for students working to narrow a topic for a research paper, as another example of when to use Novoseek.

So, does Hugh use Novoseek for his health care information searching? Well, it was an April Fools, so who knows? Maybe yes, maybe no. But he sure could, and it would be a very reasonable thing to do.

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