Are Medical Dramas Accurate Representations of Actual Hospitals?A medical drama is a television show where events are centered around a hospital, the medical personnel, and the practice of medicine.
In more current medical dramas, such as House, ER, Scrubs, and Grey’s Anatomy, the storyline goes deeper than the just the characters’ job as a hospital worker and depicts aspects of their personal lives. Medical dramas have been popular since Dr. Kildare was aired in 1961 and the genre has produced some of the most successful television programs to ever be broadcasted (Khalid Al Aboud.
“Medical Dramas – the Pros and the Cons”. US National Library of Medicine). Even medical professionals tune in to watch them after spending hours doing what is depicted on screen. But is everything included in these medical shows actually accurate representations of what goes on in a hospital? What are the differences in real life compared to the fictional worlds that have been created? And if the shows aren’t accurate, what makes them this way and why aren’t they made to be realistic?Romance and socializing are two aspects of medical dramas that tend to be altered a lot in the shows. While romance can find a way to kindle itself in real life hospitals, medical shows blow it out of proportion to dramatize it. Having sex on the job, especially in the hospital closet, isn’t something that normally happens like the way shows make it seem. If anyone is in a relationship with another person at the hospital, they tend to keep things more private (“Fact or Fiction: Do Doctor Dramas Accurately Portray Real Life in the ER?”. Medicalbag.
). The relationship between patients and staff is often different from what is shown as well. According to Jennifer Czapla, who was once a Nursing Assistant and is now an Immediate Treatment Assistant with 8 years of medical experience under her belt, “Medical personnel normally don’t get to form these familiar relationships with the patients like the ones depicted in medicals shows.
It does happen, but not often. With so many people needing assistance, we try to get patients in and out in order to take care of as many people as we can.” Czapla also noted that patients aren’t always as sweet as shows make them out to be. They can be rude and insensitive to those who are trying to aide them because they are in pain. “One woman even spit in my eye when I was trying to help her. I had to go on antiviral medication because of that (Czapla, Jennifer.
Personal interview. 28 Jan. 2018.
)”.Death is another factor that can be depicted incorrectly. Depending on the show, patients with very slim chances of survival will somehow pull through and make it, despite seriously low surgical success rates. It adds to the idealistic view that doctors are superheroes who can save everyone. Other times, the patients will die to add intensity to the plot while showing that doctors are only human and there’s only so much they can do. According to Amir Hetsroni, an Israeli communications scholar, statistically, it seems like high death rates are more popular than low ones.
Hetsroni analyzed one season of some of the most popular US hospital dramas such as ER, Chicago Hope, and Grey’s Anatomy and discovered that the mortality rates of a real hospital are about 5% whereas it’s 17.5% in TV hospitals. He also realized that dying television patients were most likely to be young, seriously injured white males. (Amir Hetsroni.”If You Must Be Hospitalized, Television Is Not the Place: Diagnoses, Survival Rates and Demographic Characteristics of Patients in TV Hospital Dramas”. Tandfonline.)As mentioned above, medical dramas tend to like the archetype of a “superhero doctor”. Someone who can save the helpless without needing help from those around them.
These fictional doctors are created to be “geniuses who can diagnose and treat any condition, operate MRI scanners, analyze blood samples, and perform complex surgery all in the same day (“Fact or Fiction: Do Doctor Dramas Accurately Portray Real Life in the ER?”. Medicalbag.)”. Because of this “hospital dramas tend to leave out many important medical roles, such as the radiologist, lab technician, nurse, pharmacist, or specialist surgeon (“Fact or Fiction: Do Doctor Dramas Accurately Portray Real Life in the ER?”.
Medicalbag.)”. Czapla added on to this notion by saying “Doctors like these are so unrealistic.
There are so many other types of medical staff members that get left out of these shows such as people like me. When’s the last time an Immediate Treatment Assistant was ever mentioned? (Czapla, Jennifer. Personal interview. 28 Jan. 2018.)”.
She also added “I work on the rehab floor at Mercy Hospital. Medical shows frequently cut out the long recovery patients have to go through and the hospital staff that aids them in their recovery once the surgery has taken place (Czapla, Jennifer. Personal interview. 28 Jan. 2018.)”.There are many cases of inaccurate portrayals of a day in the life of a doctor. A good one to look at is JD’s first day as a doctor in the television series Scrubs.
JD, the main character, receives his first emergency call. He rushes towards the patient’s room but instead of helping, hides in a closet where another doctor, Elliot, is hiding. The scene switches to Tuck, who’s also a new doctor like JD, where he stands over the patient’s bedside vigorously rubbing the defibrillator pads together. He shocks the patient back to life, though what he really does is shock the patient from sleep (“My First Day” Scrubs. NBC, WBRE-TV, 02 Oct. 2001.
). Other than the obvious, obtuse mistake, there’s another thing flawed with the scene. Rubbing the defibrillators together doesn’t do anything other than potentially damage the device. The placement of the defibrillators is also incorrect seeing as the right one is supposed to be above the right nipple and the left one is supposed to be under the left nipple.
In the show, the pads are placed right next to each other. Just like with the defibrillators, CPR is another medical procedure that is often imprecise. It’s often during high-adrenaline cases that doctors use CPR, even though real doctors aren’t close to seeing anything near the number of high-adrenaline cases in their whole career that television doctors see in under an hour (“Fact or Fiction: Do Doctor Dramas Accurately Portray Real Life in the ER?”. Medicalbag.). Pediatrician Prasanna Ananth said “On one Grey’s Anatomy episode, a patient comes in with chest pain, and two seconds later, he is rushed to open-heart surgery. That is hardly realistic.
(Mitzi Baker. “Is there a critic in the house? Poking holes in TV medical dramas—and loving it”. Standford.)”. When the CPR is deployed in these high-adrenaline cases it’s often incorrectly used. According to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, television patients mostly survive after receiving CPR, but in actuality it only saves lives 5% of the time (Diem, Susan, Lantos, John, and Tulsky, James.
“Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation on Television — Miracles and Misinformation” The New England Journal of Medicine.). The National CPR Association put out statistics stating that CPR in ER saves 68% of patients, 64% of patients in Chicago Hope, and 46% of patients in Grey’s Anatomy (“Common Medical Inaccuracies in Medical Dramas”.
Nationalcprassociation.). This is a large jump from the 5% of the time CPR really saves lives.Some things medical dramas do are rather unrealistic and would never happen in an actual hospital. For instance, in House M.D. Dr.
Gregory House and his team are constantly breaking into patients’ houses to in order to find clues that might point them in the right direction for a diagnosis. They never ask for the patients’ permission and though this is a crime, they don’t normally trouble. Another example would be Grey’s Anatomy. In one episode, a patient mysteriously dies and Christina and Izzie perform an unauthorized autopsy against the wishes of the family. They get caught by their attending physician, but it gets let go after their theory on why the patient died was proven right. Something like this would never be let go of in a real life situation and the doctor may even lose their license to practice medicine (“Fact or Fiction: Do Doctor Dramas Accurately Portray Real Life in the ER?”.
Medicalbag.).Based on the information found after researching this topic, it appears medical shows are not very accurate to the actual thing. The overall concept is there but there are many things added or taken away to heighten the excitement of the show. In the end, these shows are not about saving lives and the ethics that go along with it. They’re about entertaining the audience.
The question now is if doing this with medical dramas affect the people viewing them and the people the shows are based on positively or negatively.