Dr Catherine Bell, a GP from Sheffield, claims that children watching ‘Peppa Pig’ may develop “unrealistic expectations” of GPs, such as the presumption of home visits or use of doctors for minor illnesses.
Dr Bell said she had wondered why some patients immediately attempt to consult their GP about illnesses such as coughs and colds.
And now, as the mother of a toddler and frequent viewer of ‘Peppa Pig’, she thinks she might have discovered the answer.
In a report in the British Medical Journal’s light-hearted Christmas issue, Dr Bell analysed three case studies and considered the potential impact the actions of a character called Dr Brown Bear could have on patient behaviour.
Usual advice for uncomplicated viral illnesses, such as coughs and colds, is to not see your GP, but to rest at home and drink plenty of fluids instead.
That doesn’t seem to be what happens on the show though...
Dr Brown Bear makes an urgent home visit to a three-year-old piglet with a facial rash. He reassures the parents it is “nothing serious” and offers a dose of medicine, but says the rash is likely to clear up quickly regardless.
“This case questions whether Dr Brown Bear is an unscrupulous private practitioner for conducting an arguably clinically inappropriate home visit,” said Bell.
“It is also an example of unnecessary prescribing for a viral illness, and encourages patients to attempt to access their GP inappropriately.”
Dr Brown Bear makes another urgent home visit to an 18-month-old piglet with cold symptoms. After examining the throat, he diagnoses an upper respiratory tract infection and advises bed rest and warm milk.
Despite again “opting to make a clinically inappropriate urgent home visit”, Dr Brown Bear’s management “was at least clinically appropriate on this occasion, and his advice might encourage the family to self manage similar illnesses in future,” wrote Bell.
Dr Brown Bear makes an emergency visit to the playgroup after a three-year-old pony coughs three times.
After examining the patient, he administers a dose of medicine immediately and warns that the cough is potentially transmissible. When the rest of the playgroup attendees and their parents develop symptoms, they are all given a dose of an unspecified pink medicine.
When Dr Brown Bear also develops symptoms, his patients attend the surgery to administer his dose of medicine, and to sing to him.
Bell suggests that Dr Brown Bear is displaying signs of “burnout”.
“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,” she said.
“He is no longer able to offer the level of service his patients have come to expect.”
Dr Bell therefore believes that, seeing as the show is broadcast and encountered by parents in more than 180 countries worldwide, the influence of his portrayal of the work of primary care physicians is likely to be “significant”.
She added: “Exposure to ‘Peppa Pig’ and its portrayal of general practice raises patient expectation and encourages inappropriate use of primary care services.
“Further study is needed to confirm this.”
HuffPost UK contacted Entertainment One, the UK-listed media group that owns ‘Peppa Pig’ but they declined to comment.