Are the Medical Problems on ‘The Good Doctor’ Actually Real?

The Good Doctor, which premiered in 2017, has quickly become one of the most popular primetime shows today. It’s a medical drama, which means every episode sees new medical problems arise among patients. But are these problems embellished, or do hospitals actually deal with issues such as these on a daily basis?

The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor | ABC

‘The Good Doctor’ follows Dr. Shaun Murphy, an autistic doctor, while he solves medical conundrums

The concept of the show surrounds Dr. Shaun Murphy, an autistic doctor with savant syndrome. He was hired by Dr. Aaron Glassman, who was the president of the hospital during the show’s first season. (Due a mistake Murphy made, Glassman was relieved of his duties as president.) Murphy’s savant skills mean he has a form of brilliance that almost nobody else does. This allows him to draw conclusions about complex medical problems that other doctors on his team would not think of themselves. As a result, people are often skeptical of Murphy’s hunches, but he’s almost always right.

Dr. Aaron Glassman’s brain cancer is definitely real

One of the major medical problems on the show is Glassman’s brain cancer. He was diagnosed at the end of the first season. Originally, doctors told him he had an inoperable tumor. However, Murphy was convinced the doctors had made a mistake and asked Glassman to have further testing done. Glassman relented and had some more tests done, only to learn that Murphy’s hunch had been right: Glassman had a glioma. A glioma is a tumor that can occur in either the brain or spinal cord, and depending on its location, may be life threatening. However, this isn’t always the case. Depending on the type of glioma, the tumor may be operable and treatable. Gliomas make up about 80% of malignant brain tumors in Americans; roughly 16,000 people in the U.S. die from brain tumors each year.

The procedures and problems on the show are real, but some are complex and uncommon

Every episode sees several different problems arise among patients. Some are more common than others. For example, in the final episode of 2018, a deadly, fast-moving virus spread throughout the hospital’s emergency room and killed people in a matter of hours. While this could technically happen, it is extremely unlikely that any such virus would run rampant in the U.S. In that same episode, a man came in with a twisted bowel and the team used a saline enema to fix it. Twisted bowels are much more common than a deadly virus tearing through a hospital emergency room in less than a day. Another patient on the episode required a bone marrow transplant, which, of course, is a real procedure.

The hospital on the show is more equipped to handle complex medical procedures than other hospitals around the country

There are likely two reasons why San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital sees such interesting illnesses: It adds more drama to the show, and the hospital is also a teaching hospital, which means it takes on complex cases on purpose to teach the doctors currently doing their residencies. A small hospital in a rural town would not have the capability to handle such interesting, difficult cases. But since San Jose St. Bonaventure appears to be a highly-ranked, well-known hospital, it is given difficult cases and often tries experimental treatments. While some procedures on the show are common and can be done anywhere, others are complicated, risky procedures that would only be done in a massive medical center such as the show’s California hospital.

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