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.
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 Numerous procedures are standard back then and some even today although the equipment is now outdated.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 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.