Epidemiology, GIS, and Portwenn
I only recently started to watch reruns of Doc Martin on Hulu. The show is about a gruff London surgeon who relocates to the picture book seaside village of Portwenn, Cornwall. Like many seaside towns, the fictional village relies on tourism and fishing for most of its revenue, which makes its reliance on a single doctor to handle track down health outbreaks on a fairly regular basis surprising. In one specific episode (Season 1, Episode 3) entitled “Sh*t Happens” a virus hits Portwenn that the doctor assumes is caused by the community swimming pool, which he announces on the radio and tries to close down before finding out that it originates from someone selling contaminated bottled water. Considering how many outbreaks of various ailments happen on the show, it is surprising that even after this event he never calls a public health official or has an epidemiologist on speed dial.
Anyone who has worked in local government, public health, or other fields that interact with the public will recognize the realistic situation of dealing with a virus or other event that impacts the public health. These situations usually must be handled quickly with a lack of information that makes analyzing the situation difficult. However, they are usually addressed collaboratively with the help of medical staff, state and local government, public health officials, and schools, many times using GIS.
I was therefore relieved to find that in the real world setting of Port Isaac (Port Wenn) there is more than one doctor to handle emergencies. In fact, the Port Isaac Practice, which has been in existence since the 1940’s, has a Primary Care Health Team including seven doctors, practice nurses, community nurses and other vital personnel. The South West Peninsula Health Protection Unit, Cornwall Council and the Environment Agency have worked together to create handbooks such as the “Viral Gastroenteritis (Norovirus) Outbreak Guidance for Caravan and Campsites“. While the Combined Universities in Cornwall has several epidemiology professors on staff.
The “Sh*t Happens” episode would be a great one to use in a geography, geospatial, or public health class when covering the work of John Snow. It demonstrates that because of the work of epidemiologists and other geospatial analysts, doctors no longer have to tackle community outbreaks alone. Doc Martin is enjoyable and it is good that he isn’t portrayed as a super star epidemiologist. It would be nice for the fictional Portwenn, and the doctor himself, if he had as much support as the real life Port Isaac.