The Undiagnosed Disease Program: The Real House M.D.

Just about every episode of the hit medical drama House MD follows a pattern, as the humor magazine Cracked points out: A patient presents weird symptoms that escalate into a life-or-death situation, House and his team take ridiculous risks to save the patient, and then the patient is saved.

What many viewers don’t know is that the National Institutes of Health has its very own House-like team called the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP). The main idea of the TV show echoes the UDP’s work, but the two don’t have much else in common. The New Scientistinterviewed program head William Gahl, who, unlike the TV show’s protagonist, seems to be a humble, caring man with a sincere interest in his patients. Plus, real patients usually show up with slow-developing conditions, not the dramatic collapses seen on the show.

The UDP began in May of 2008 and in those seven short months has received over 1000 doctors’ inquiries. The program, according to Gahl, serves two purposes: Not only do the physicians work to diagnose and help patients, they also try to identify new medical conditions in the hopes of making future diagnoses easier for everyone.

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