TV series "House": Medical staff searching homes, etc.

I can’t believe this hasn’t been asked before, since I have only recently started watching the series, so please feel free to link me to a thread where this was addressed.

I am struck by the number of times in “House” that members of the medical staff are called upon to search patients’ homes or workplaces for tainted food, pesticides, drugs, whatever.

Does this happen IRL?!?? I assume medical personnel would need some sort of search warrant.

No, a search warrant is not needed because the medical personnel are not the State (well, I guess they could be in some circumstances, but not the ones normally shown on “House”).

They’re just ordinary tresspassers – entirely dependent on the later goodwill of their patients to avoid both criminal charges and civil lawsuits.

Right on the money. I don’t know about the legal ramifications, but I’ve sent medics and law officers to a house to look for clues.

As a practical matter, what I consider (as an ED physician) is not whether something is illegal but whether I’ll get in trouble for it if I am trying to help a patient. I might be triggering some technically illegal criminal act but I can’t see the DA sending me up the river for it and I don’t think a judge or jury would either.

From a patient’s standpoint it’s a good deal, too. I don’t pretend to understand the law but I think it’s correct to say that if I send a cop to a house for an emergency illegal search to see if my seizing patient might have gotten into some illegal drugs, and they find said drugs, it helps me and the patient and is a reason to have any evidence thrown out to boot. Win/win.

Interesting, Chief Pedant. I’d always assumed that such a thing was wholly the province of TV Land.

I figured it was fake too and never thought of HOUSE to be a realistic show. Me people i know in the medical field tell me that scrubs is very realistic as far as the emotional stuff people go through.

I’ve only seen one or two episodes of the show (not my cup of tea), but in each they sent some intrepid young staff to break into someone’s house searching for clues. Not, “go knock on the door and ask for permission to enter” but actual breaking and entering. And in both of the shows they didn’t just go to the medicine cabinet and look around, they went room to room searching, swabbing, collecting, and Scooby-Dooing. I don’t remember what episodes they were, but I think in one the power was out (or was that for mood-effect, like on CSI?) and there were rats or birds or something dropping red herrings on main characters).

I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time finding this legal. There is a doctrine of necessity as a defense against trespassing (if I remember my terms correctly), such that if, say, your boat is in danger of sinking in a storm you can use a stranger’s dock. However, this suggests that it functions as some sort of Good Samaritan law to protect anyone acting in the interest of a property owner — it implies that if I find you out cold in the street I can go to your house and rummage about in search of a “clue”.

I also have a hard time buying the “not a state actor” bit, seeing as how the setup in the show kept implying Ultimate Peril and that there was an unconscious patient with no person to give permission to enter the property (else the whole thread would be moot).

Of course, whether it gets done or not and whether or not people are lucky enough to get away with it on a regular basis is outside the scope of the OP. And any jurisdiction is free to carve out safe harbors where they will, so there will be some variation. But it strikes me as opening the door to a lawsuit, licensing problems, and possible criminal complaint.

I know ED is a serious condition, but…

I think you’re missing the point, that it’s NOT legal. Like was said before, if you do it, you’re entirely depending on the goodwill of your patient not to press charges against you for trespassing.

There are several points in the dialogue of the show when the doctors plainly state they know they are doing something illegal … they made a big deal of this during the first season. They are doing it reluctantly, but (in the world of the show) Dr. House is such a big deal that they do it anyway. The anxiety and pressure they feel about doing it is pretty clear.

I think now it’s become such a part of the expected procedure of the show that it just happens without very much made of it.

The season premiere is still sitting on my DVR unwatched, but I read in Entertainment Weekly that starting this season, Dr. House is going to start using a private investigator for that kind of stuff… and he’s going to use the guy to spy on his staff, too.

Chef Troy’s post includes a mild spoiler of the upcoming season. That’s why I added the spoiler box.

**Gfactor **
General Questions Moderator

ED = Emergency Department, IIRC.

Yeah - The thought was that “department” was bigger than “room”. It was just catching on and then Bob Dole came along…

Part of the reason for this is that House, while based in hospital, isn’t really a traditional medical drama at all; it’s a detective show. As such, breaking into houses and offices makes sense. They’re gathering clues that they can later use to bring about a confession from the perp (patient).