If you’ve watched every single episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” (as of February 8, 2018, there are 305, including five specials), you may think you know everything there is to know about hospitals. Heck, you may even consider yourself a medical expert.
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But before you walk into a hospital and start bossing all the doctors and nurses around, you might want to take a moment — because new research has found that — surprise surprise — the made-for-TV version of the medical world isn’t quite accurate. Who would have thought!
According to a study published in the journal Trauma Surgery and Acute Care, people who watch medical shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” “may develop an unrealistic perception of the daily events and activities involving patients and staff at their local hospital.” And this goes way beyond the doctor’s not looking like McDreamy and McSteamy. (Sigh.)
“Patient satisfaction is a big deal these days. It’s become a measure of quality,” explained study author Dr. Jordan Weinberg. “If there’s a real gap between [expectation and reality], it makes it a relatively poor experience for the patient, and it transfers to a poor experience for the nurses and doctors trying to take care of this patient who feels very frustrated.”
Weinberg, trauma medical director at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, along with his team, screened 269 episodes of the popular medical drama. They focused on the 290 fictional trauma patients who visited the Seattle Grace/Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital featured on the show, recording data about everything ranging from demographics and admission patterns to length of stay, severity of injuries and final outcomes. Next they compared this data with patient data from real life, which they attained via the National Trauma Databank.
It should come as zero surprise that the television version of hospital life is way more dramatic than real life and incredibly more glamorous. Because why would we want it any other way? It’s all about entertainment and escapism at the end of the day.
So what were the big discrepancies? For one, fictional hospital patients are younger than real patients (34 versus 41) and more likely to be female (40 percent versus 30 percent). Apparently, it’s a lot more entertaining to watch a young woman swallow a bomb (yes, that was an actual plotline) than a middle-aged man.
Recovery times were also totally off: Television patients were more likely be discharged from hospital at a more rapid speed (seriously injured “Grey’s” patients spend less than a week in the hospital, compared with 20 percent in real life). The death rate was also much higher on the show, with a whopping 22 percent of the fictional patients passing away, compared to 7 percent in the comparison group. Phew!
“Although realism is an integral element to the success of a television drama set in a contemporary workplace, be it a hospital or police department, the requirements for dramatic effect demand a focus on the exceptional rather than the mundane,” the study explained.
“Hence, American television medical dramas tend to rely on story lines that feature rare diseases, odd presentations of common diseases, fantastic and/or quirky injuries and mass-casualty events, all framed within a ‘realistic’ representation of a typical U.S. hospital.”
However, this isn’t to say that shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” get it all wrong. Weinberg, who hadn’t watched the drama before the study, admits there is a lot of truth to their depiction of hospital life, likely due to the fact that producers employ “physician consults” to keep things somewhat accurate.
Ultimately, he’s not asking you to stop binge-watching the show — just don’t base your medical expectations on it. “We don’t watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to be educated. We watch it for entertainment value,” he said. “Within the constraints of what they’re trying to do, which is entertain people, they actually do a very good job of achieving reality.”
So the next time you walk into a hospital, remember that your actual experience likely will not resemble a plotline on the show. You might have to wait a little bit longer to see the doctor, and he may not resemble Patrick Dempsey or Ellen Pompeo, but at least you aren’t there because you sawed off your own foot. And, yes, that happened on the show too.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you surprised “Grey’s Anatomy” is not an accurate portrayal of hospital life? Do you see any danger in watching medical dramas? What other television shows may misrepresent their subject matter?