I, like a lot of others, enjoy watching the FOX television series House, starring Hugh Laurie. I don’t watch the show nearly as much for the complicated diagnostics of obscure diseases as I do for the relational plot lines between the characters, including the internal struggles Dr. House faces himself. That’s probably because the disease diagnosis part of the story follows a pretty standard template: patient presents with strange symptoms that promise their impending death, a multitude of possible diagnoses are listed on the differential and ruled out as a series of tests and/or new symptoms appear while the patient is hospitalized, the differential is exhausted while the patient remains ill, something happens–usually in the context of a seemingly unrelated conversation–that prompts an “aha” moment for House, and the one illness that never made it onto the differential, yet accounts for all of the symptoms and is easily treated, allows the patient to be cured and the episode to wrap up nicely within an hour. The “aha” moment happens somewhere between minute 50 and minute 52. Like I said, it’s formulaic.
And, sure, it’s cool that Dr. House is able to step in and save the day–even if it is cheesy. We like that. We esteem medicine and hold its best practitioners in the highest regard. The question is: To what extent? Of course, there are many ways we could try to measure that, but one of the best is to use a price tag. After all, money is the common medium of exchange in this country and most others. So, what would it cost to be treated by Dr. House and his staff? Enter Andrew Holtz, author of The Medical Science of House, M.D., who was recently interviewed by NPR’s Robert Siegel. During the course of their discussion, which you can listen to here, Holtz concludes that the course of diagnostic testing that a patient undergoes in one particular episode of the show would cost in the ballpark of $298,000 give or take a few thousand. That’s more than the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 according to a brief segment I saw on the Today show last week (excluding college costs, of course). Granted, cost is never an issue on House–and before I came across the NPR interview, that never bothered me. It is fiction after all. But then again, maybe the reality isn’t all that far from the TV show–I mean, when was the last time that you based your life and death medical decisions on how much it was going to cost you.