Accuracy of Medicine in Shows/Movies

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My mom watched a bunch of medical dramas while I was growing up. I would see all sorts of odd and dramatic cases rush by in quick succession while mom would tell me if it was correct or not. She would tell me how to treat it before the show told me ten minutes later if it was correct.

So now I watch some of the newer medical shows and quietly wonder if they are doing it correctly. Sure they can say they are injecting (insert scientific “drug” here) while the patient is close to flat-lining, but is that really what they would do? I thought it would be interesting to look at a few medical shows, both past and present, just to see the accuracy.

One important thing to note is how the portrayed accuracy, whether truly accurate or not, can actually affect how people perceive it. For example, Forbes writer Allison Van Dusen cites a Yale University study where they found that people who watched shows that portrayed plastic surgery positively were more likely to speak to a surgeon about possible procedures than those who had not watched. If just seeing something portrayed in a positive light can increase the amount of people asking about it, then there is more than likely an inverse to this as well. For example, Van Dusen later points out how some shows portrayed organ donation badly with dramatic scenes where the donated organ failed, which later was found to decrease the amount of people willing to donate.

A show can influence how we think about health and medicine, but is the information accurate? Let me just provide three examples, one old and one recent.

Emergency! (1972-1977)

This is the show my mom cites as being her inspiration to become a doctor and paramedic. Certain aspects of the show are accurate at least for the time it was aired. There is drama, but not to the current level that we are use to today. Numerous procedures are standard back then and some even today although the equipment is now outdated. There are certain episodes where the acting was incorrect. A short list of those can be found on the Wikipedia link that actually does a mild analysis of the series. There is examples in the show where an incorrect method is shown and the actors portraying paramedics/doctors correct the person in great detail.

ER (1994-2009)

ER was one of the longest running medical dramas with 15 seasons over almost 15 years. Pam Belluck wrote for NYTimes citing certain examples where the show went above and beyond to add certain medical features to boost public health. For example, some episodes contained prevalent information to chlamydia and other STDs that was later found to help boost the general knowledge about STDs. Now there are certain problems within the show itself that does appear in other recent shows: CPR is not used nearly as much as the shows make you seem like it does. Defibrillators are also not some magic paddles that are going to get almost everyone up whose heart just gave out (they work, but just not for all cases). Dr. Nikki Stamp provides some of his views on inaccuracies in medical dramas in the link provided below. Also there is a link to a medical review of every episode of House if you want to see if that one super odd case was actually real and handled properly.

Bottom line: Fact check you medical shows. Doing something you saw on a show could result in further problems. When they say don’t try this at home, really don’t try this at home.

Josh Obermeyer

Links:

Forbes article (Forbes on NBC News)

Actual physician’s take on certain aspects of medical shows

Medical review of every House episode

Wikipedia for general overview on Emergency!

NYTimes article on ER

Photo: Here

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7 thoughts on “Accuracy of Medicine in Shows/Movies

  1. I am really glad you brought this issue to light. From my own personal experiences, I have had many friends who grew up watching shows like ER, House, and Grey’s Anatomy who, because of these shows, decided they would enter college as a pre-med track and some even to go on as doctors. What my friends did not realize was that these TV shows are not always accurate and they are made for entertainment purposes only. Being a doctor is an amazing thing, but these shows have caused it to become “trendy” and I am finding that many people are unpleasantly surprised in med school by what their jobs may look like in the future. Your life will not be just like Meredith Grey’s!

    Erica Bock

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  2. This was a very interesting article. I grew up watching some medical dramas and assumed some of the things they did were embellished but I never thought about the importance of the public viewing these shows and therefore their ideas about medical procedures. At least ER used there public platform to educate people as well as entertaining them.

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  3. I really enjoyed your post. My mom also really enjoyed these shows, and I can admit to watching them all the time. I wonder what it is about a medical or crime show that makes people want to watch until the end. Is it just to find out who did it because mystery is intriguing? Or is there some evolutionary reasoning behind why we always seek answers to loose ends?

    It makes sense that those who would watch a medical show that is framed in a positive light would be more encouraged to talk about their problems. I would think this would be especially true if a person’s certain illness was portrayed. The issue I have is that not every medical story in real life is a positive one, which is often the case in the shows. The way of some shows that, first, have inaccurate medical information can be dangerous for those who do take these shows to heart, and also for those who think they can do their own medical procedure because they can’t afford a doctor or hospital and think the show is accurate. Even if all of the shows weren’t positive, it should be stressed that at least they should make sense in the medical realm. Though I understand these shows are for entertainment, what happens with those people who find truth in these stories? I think these shows have the potential to be PSA’s, especially when it comes to relating to common illnesses today in the demographic that watch the shows (STD’s, heart issues, etc.), and the producers should really take that into account.

    Annelise Wilimitis

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  4. I just restarted Grey’s Anatomy from the first episode–for the fourth time. Reading your post made me chuckle because I get so wrapped up in the drama of the show that the thought of accuracy never even crosses my mind. They could just be throwing words around that make no sense, but still I would be so wrapped up in the drama and rush of it all. I guess that’s hollywood doing its job. Your post is important because it makes me question and want to research this topic even deeper for myself! Really insightful and well written!

    -Mikayla Hounchell

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  5. i have watched house since i have been pretty young. I kind of realized that thee diagnosis was a little far fetched. Personally i wish they would make the information more spot on so the common viewer actually learns something they can apply to real life.
    Malik Johnson

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  6. This definitely connects to some topics that I have thought about myself. For example, I watch Grey’s Anatomy and always wondered how accurate all of the context and medicine talk really is. Really enjoyed your choice of topic!

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