Peppa Pig teaches children many valuable lessons. How general practitioners should care for patients, however, is not one of them. Because Dr. Brown Bear, the show’s in-house health care professional, is likely guilty of medical malpractice, according to a new, tongue-in-cheek study published in the British Medical Journal. Dr. Brown Bear prescribes antibiotics for viral infections, makes urgent house calls when clinically inappropriate, and administers medical care to minors without parental consent.
In a word, Dr. Brown Bear is a child’s dream doctor — ever-available, willing and able to prescribe medicine with abandon, and at Peppa’s and her friends’ beck and call. Which is fine. It’s a children’s cartoon. The problem is that children who watch Peppa Pig may soon begin expecting these services from real doctors without realizing how unhealthy they would truly be. Indeed, at one point in the series Dr. Brown Bear falls ill, perhaps due simply to “burn out”.
“His disregard for confidentiality, parental consent, record keeping, and his self-prescribing indicate that the burden of demand from his patient population is affecting his health,” author of the study Catherine Bell, a GP in the UK — who is presumably more responsible than Dr. Brown Bear, but not above publishing a Peppa Pig takedown in a top-five journal — said in the statement. “He is no longer able to offer the level of service his patients have come to expect.”
Bell’s study is part of the legendary British Medical Journal Christmas Edition, which has been tickling science fans for three decades with rigorous scientific studies that meet BMJ’s high standards but also address lighthearted and often irreverent subjects. Past editions have demonstrated that Santa does not, statistically, snub naughty kids (but that he does seem to ignore children in low-income neighborhoods), that orthopedic surgeons are smarter than anesthesiologists, and that sealed chocolates last an average of 12 minutes in hospital wards.
For the BMJ’s latest installment, Bell presents case studies involving Dr. Brown Bear’s poor clinical judgment. In one scene in Peppa Pig, he makes an urgent home visit for a piglet with a minor rash that he determines is not serious and will clear up on its own. Nonetheless, Dr. Brown Bear offers medicine. Bell calls this “an example of unnecessary prescribing for a viral illness” and a storyline that “encourages patients to attempt to access their GP inappropriately.” In another case, Dr. Brown Bear makes an urgent visit to a playgroup after a 3-year-old pony coughs three times. He administers medicine immediately, without obtaining parental consent.
Given that our children are growing up in the midst of a primary care physician shortage, Bell writes, surrounded by ignorant patients who demand antibiotics for viral infections and instant cures for complex conditions, Peppa isn’t helping. “Exposure to Peppa Pig and its portrayal of general practice raises patient expectation and encourages inappropriate use of primary care services,” she says.
“Dr. Brown Bear was approached for his perspective on the cases discussed; however, he is unable to comment pending the outcome of a ‘fitness to practice’ investigation.”