Dr. Ryan Shelton discusses medical field depictions in Hollywood
Medical TV shows and movies continue to be highly popular among viewing audiences. Classic medical dramas like ER and Grey’s Anatomy show a dramatic side of medical treatment, sometimes lining up with actual practice and sometimes distorted by the need for more excitement in the script.
Dr. Ryan Shelton, Medical Research Director of Zenith Labs, breaks down what medical shows and movies get right and where they miss the mark.
Balance of Care
In a real hospital, doctors do not spend much time at patients’ bedsides. Doctors are often shown checking patients’ vitals and consulting with them regularly. In reality, doctors usually visit once per day while nurses are in charge of daily care and maintenance of patients’ health. Newer TV shows like Nurses play up the importance of the profession and may be more realistic than traditional medical shows.
Paperwork and Insurance Struggles
Much of a medical professional’s day is taken up by paperwork, but this is rarely if ever seen in a medical drama. Paperwork is considered to be too boring to show on television, while surgeries, flatlined patients, and childbirth receive the most play.
Health insurance struggles are also a bigger part of doctors’ days than is depicted on TV. Frequently, doctors have to go back and forth with insurance companies for days or weeks to get their patients’ treatment covered to the best of their abilities.
CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation is not a magic bullet in the way it is depicted on television. While performing CPR can help to save a patient’s life, it is not an instant cure. CPR helps to keep blood flowing to the brain until breathing and circulation can be restored. Often, CPR is a temporary fix. In real life, CPR saves one out of every thirty lives.
When a patient flatlines on a medical show, they are usually shocked back to life with a defibrillator. In reality, defibrillators are used to combat specific forms of heart arrhythmias, not bring a patient back from a situation where their heart has stopped. However, shocking the patient back to life makes for a highly dramatic moment, so it is still shown in medical dramas.
Childbirth is usually a calmer process than is shown on television. Frequently, expectant mothers on TV shows arrive at the hospital in the final stages of active labor. In reality, many mothers arrive at the hospital to be induced. The process of giving birth takes much longer in reality than it does on television, with many labors extending for 8 to 24 hours and even longer in some cases.
Unlike fictional medical experts like Dr. House, it generally takes a long time to diagnose a mysterious illness. Diagnosticians work hard for long periods of time to determine what is truly wrong with a patient with an unknown condition. One doctor or one test generally cannot diagnose the problem. It requires several tests and several doctors to contribute to the diagnosis.
Flirting on the Clock
Most medical shows emphasize the romantic entanglements that occur between doctors, nurses, and other professionals. In real life, there isn’t much romance in a hospital setting. Doctors and nurses are overworked and overwhelmed, and they simply don’t have time to attend to their personal lives while they are working. This is good for real-world patients because it is easy to imagine that a drama-filled hospital wouldn’t treat patients as effectively as a hospital where everyone is working hard.
Relationships between medical professionals do happen, but they are generally conducted outside the workplace. Doctors and nurses do not allow their personal lives to get in the way of their professionalism.
Even more unrealistic than romantic entanglements happening between doctors and nurses are situations where a medical professional gets involved with a patient. This storyline is common on shows like Grey’s Anatomy. In real life, there are strict rules against becoming romantically involved with patients. Nurses in particular often develop close relationships with their patients based on caring for them, but they are almost always completely professional about it.
Frequently, TV and movie doctors are presented as being abrasive and rude to their patients. In real life, doctors make a serious effort to have a kind and friendly bedside manner. Patients react poorly to being scolded or yelled at, and doctors who treat their patients poorly are likely to find themselves out of a job no matter how high-quality their care is.
Comparing Fantasy and Reality
Medical shows and movies are good entertainment, and it is unlikely that the more unrealistic aspects of these programs will be fixed. Drama needs to be condensed into one-hour episodes that stand alone. Viewers enjoy seeing high-stakes personal relationships.
They also enjoy imagining that doctors can diagnose patients in a snap and that mothers give birth almost instantly upon arriving at the hospital. TV fans should keep in mind that they shouldn’t project their experiences with fictional shows onto their own experience at a hospital or medical clinic.
Dr. Ryan Shelton Zenith Labs encourages people to keep watching their favorite medical shows but to take the realism of the situations presented with a grain of salt.