The doctor as detective

FOR MANY OF DR. GOOGLE’S MOST ANXIOUS patients—the ones who consult WebMD’s Symptom Checker more often than the weather report—Lisa Sanders is a household name. A physician and author based at the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Sanders has been writing a column called “Diagnosis” for the New York Times Magazine since 2002. Each edition follows a patient with a mysterious ailment from desperation to, yes, diagnosis, like a whodunit where the culprit lurks somewhere beneath the skin of a victim who can almost always be saved. These doctor-as-detective stories provided the basis for Fox’s House.

Sanders’ oeuvre takes a new form on Aug. 16 with the Netflix docuseries a more straightforward adaptation of her column. In place of Hugh Laurie’s misanthropic Dr. House, with his prickly bedside manner, we get the reporter herself, a keen-eyed and empathetic interlocutor who seeks answers for some of America’s most perplexing patients. More than the comforts of a tidy procedural, each episode offers a moving case study of a life derailed by an affliction that has doctors stumped. What unites these very different patients from across the country, many of them kids or young adults, is an urgent need for health care more thoughtful and intensive than what is currently available to them.

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