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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

CSI Effect Sends Wrong Signal to Patients

Published October 1, 2011 12:19 AM by Glen McDaniel

In recent years the legal community  has described a phenomenon called the CSI Effect.Based on the popularity of television programs like CSI, jurors as well as the public at large have come to expect that  every criminal case can be solved definitively in a short time with clear proof of innocence or guilt. Very often the findings are immediate, dramatic and incontrovertible. Prosecutors have cited the CSI Effect as a major factor in  the unexpected outcomes of recent high profile cases.  Some have gone so far as to seek to eliminate or "strike" jurors who admit to being avid watchers of shows like CSI.

Not surprisingly, the CSI Effect has bled over into expectations regarding medicine (and medical laboratory science) as well. Patients have come to expect fast, clear-cut, black and white answers; often generated by sophisticated instruments.  Not only does this belief set up unrealistic expectations about diagnosis and treatment, it belittles the judgment of professionals who do more than push buttons to generate diagnostic information.

Where does the critical thinking of the clinical laboratorian come in?  Rarely in a two hour drama is  a laboratorian seen performing instrument maintenance, calibration or even quality control. Sure, story lines abound about specimens that are lost by "lab techs" but never is there any mention of the criteria used to determine acceptable specimens, or the validation of results using delta checks, understanding clinical information or correlation of different results from the same patient.

Patients increasingly want to know what a specific single result means (forget all the nuances, natural variaions, and other clinical information that the laboratory might not have). They wonder why different labs produce different results, or  one lab produces results that do not match the patient's expectations or logic. Shouldn't sophisticated instruments always produce predictable easily interpreted results? Doesn't variation  mean one lab is better than another ; one is right and the other is wrong?

Shows like House and CSI have really generated a renewed interest in science and medicine but in many ways they have done a disservice to our profession.

With new proposed regulations for laboratories to provide patients with their own results, expectations  for simple unambiguous answers will only increase. It will be up to laboratorians to understand and  be ready to counter the CSI effect.

 

 

 

3 comments

On most TV shows they dont even call us by a name. Either they say the lab ( not scientists or med techs or anything) or act as if the doctor is going to personally perform the test himself. It also just kills me  how most times the test just confirms what the doctor thought. It is so far from what happens in real life anyway. I remember a few years ago that pathologists did public service announcements for Lab Week twlling about what we do and the importance of the MT/CLS. We need to do this every year. I am not sure pathologists are the right choice though. Many of them are just as clueless as other doctors. But that's another story.

Maryam , Med Tech 1 October 23, 2011 11:45 AM
Atlanta GA

I notice that over the years professions are shown on TV in better light. There are so many cop shows that  even if you see a bad one you know a cop would not feel bad because the public would not believe it 100%.  They would not think bad of all cops.  More and more doctors and nurses are shown in a good light in many movies these days. But the lab is not shown at all or they are totally unrealistic and fake. It is no wonder patients dont really know what to expect. Many even think when a phlebotomist draw their blood or  a specimen is taken it's the doctor who later on does the test after he is done seeing patients. With computers many people think every thing is instant. and fantastic. There must be  a machine that can analyze  a sample and come up with all sorts of detail in a few seconds. We need to do more education for sure.

Mary Jane October 7, 2011 6:29 PM
Nashville TN

I am very bummed and annoyed when I see doctors doing their own lab tests on TV. Even a patholoist cant do most lab test these days. Also sometimes even the detectives on a  show like CSI will come in and use some ritzy instrument with flashing lights in the lab. What the heck are those instruments and who checked them for competency?

I am scared for the day when we have to talk to patients about results. We cant do it with the staffing levels we have now. No way.

Jerome Carter October 1, 2011 4:05 PM
Atlanta GA

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