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Doctor behind ‘House’ mysteries speaks to students

She isn’t Dr. Gregory House, but she is the inspiration for his show.

Dr. Lisa Sanders spoke about her monthly “Diagnosis” column Monday night at the Ohio Union. The column runs in The New York Times Magazine and was the inspiration for “House,” the hit TV show on Fox.

Sanders began writing the column in 2002. In her column, she presents readers with the details of a patient’s medical history and allows them to take a shot at the diagnosis.

As technical adviser to “House,” Sanders’ job is to come up with the diseases the patients have and read the scripts to make sure they are as accurate as possible.

“I learned very early on that every ‘House’ episode has six beats or ‘badnesses’ that have to happen between the time the patient comes in and the time the patient gets a diagnosis or dies,” Sanders said. “And they have to be medical beats so what I love is putting together that story.”

In her lecture, Sanders emphasized the importance of the communication between doctor and patient.

“Every doctor and patient story is a tiny detective story,” Sanders said.

In her book, “Every Patient Tells a Story,” Sanders discusses the process of making a diagnosis through the stories that patients tell.

“Only since 2004 have medical programs taught students how to relate and properly take information from patients, so it is likely if your physician has a few gray hairs he didn’t go through that training,” Sanders said.

A diagnosis is made from a patient’s history 76 percent of the time, Sanders said.

“Giving the patient a chance to talk, even when it takes a little time, turns out to be useful,” she said.

Maryanna Klatt, Ohio State assistant professor in allied and family medicine, agrees.

“Through her stories students can see how important it is to talk to the patient and listen to the patient,” she said.

Klatt uses Sanders’ book in her course titled “The Evolving Art and Science of Medicine,” which is part of a minor in integrated approaches to health and wellness.

“She put warmth and a face on the stories she told in the book and I think she really brought the textbook to life,” Klatt said.

Jennifer Wittwer, a fourth-year in chemistry and molecular genetics, said Sanders gave her a new perspective on diagnosis.

“(Sanders’ lecture) certainly influenced the way I want to practice and treat patients in the future,” she said. “I will put extra emphasis on listening to patients’ concerns and work with them to help them understand their diagnosis.”

Yiheng Hu, a third-year graduate student in biological science, said she is aware of the importance of the relationship between doctor and patient.

“I’ve been told in medical school about communication with patients, and we have a class specifically about this subject,” Hu said. “Teachers think this is the most important class before we get into real clinics.” 

In addition to time at the hospital and her work with “House,” Sanders is currently researching the nutritional aspect of obesity as well as clinical decision making and the way diagnostic decisions and errors are made.

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