They're Not Doctors. They Just Play Them On TV

I don't watch Grey's Anatomy (or Private Practice or House M.D.) for medical advice. I watch for lusty romance, and witty, rapid-fire dialogue, and good stories. Not being a doctor myself, I'm not particularly concerned about whether an intern ought to be using a defibrillator or an incubator or an atropine drip on the dying four-year-old girl. I just want the kid to live.

But I must admit that, watching hospital dramas, I've always assumed the medical elements were right. That the show's producers had actual, surgical consultants on hand, looking over writers' shoulders as their fictional accident victims streamed into the ER. That Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) would call for an endotracheal tube, because that's what was appropriate, and not because it sounded fancy.

Turns out I was being naïve. A recent report, by researcher Andrew Moeller of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, confirms that an actor isn't a doctor just because he/she plays one on TV. "It turns out that popular medical dramas don't always portray medical treatment accurately," writes Elizabeth Landau of CNN.com. "A new study found that seizure care in particular was depicted appropriately less than half the time on major fictional medical shows."

That's disappointing because, well, how hard is it to forward a script to a physician for a quick look? Are these hit shows on such tight budgets that they can't pay someone to eyeball the medical stuff? "Part of the reason that shows like House are far from true-to-life is that real medicine is supposed to be as undramatic as possible," said Dr. Lisa Sanders, an internist at Yale University School of Medicine, in the CNN story. "Doctors perform procedures and try to make sure that no one gets excited."

In other words, the shows' writers know the correct procedures, but…yawn, real docs can be so boring. If McDreamy deigns it necessary to hold a seizing patient down and stick something in his mouth, who cares if that's something that a real doctor could be sued for? Does he look sexy doing it? Well, then.

Are you surprised to hear that medical dramas routinely get the medical elements wrong?

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