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I'm Not a Doctor

A second opinion on the challenges and opportunities facing today's physicians.
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By Andis Robeznieks

Today, a blog about nothing—but Seinfeld

12 pm, May. 9

The most eye-catching reference in a recent Health Affairs report on patient fears when dealing with “authoritarian” doctors did not get a citation. That's because, instead of coming from a medical journal, it came from a classic episode of the “Seinfeld” TV show.

The report cites a 1996 episode in which the Elaine Benes character, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, learns that physicians have written in her charts that she is a “difficult” patient and, subsequently, they are unwilling to treat her.

Lead author, Dominick Frosch, with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Foundation, said the “Seinfeld” reference wasn't in the first draft but was added after an anonymous reviewer mentioned it while discussing the report's findings. Frosch said he and his co-authors decided to add it to the report because “it was a good example” of patient fears and “it was important to reference that it has been brought up in popular culture.”

It made me wonder if “Seinfeld” references turned up in other medical journals.

In the New England Journal of Medicine archives, there is one mention of the show. A quick reference is made in a 2006 review of two books on circumcision where it's noted that the book Marked in Your Flesh—described as “less a historical narrative than a polemic”—has “a collection of eclectic and loosely structured observations on dozens of sources spanning three millennia, from the Book of Genesis to the television sitcom ‘Seinfeld.' ”

In the Journal of the American Medical Association, a 1997 charity event with actor Jason Alexander who portrayed George Costanza on “Seinfeld” is mentioned. It's noted that Alexander is “active in raising public awareness” of scleroderma because his sister had the disease.

And, in a 1985 letter on Sigmund Freud, author Lynne Lamberg quotes a source saying that, to get the jokes on “Seinfeld” or “The Simpsons” and appreciate Alfred Hitchcock films, “you have to understand some concepts of Freud.”

In another letter, entitled “Shear Hilarity Leading to Laugh Syncope in a Healthy Man,” Drs. Dennis Bloomfield and Saad Jazrawi of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in Staten Island, N.Y., report on a 62-year-old man who three times suffered laugh-induced syncope (blackouts) while watching “Seinfeld.”

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.

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