Television medical dramas — especially “Grey’s Anatomy” — are giving people alarmingly elevated symptoms of lofty expectations when it comes to their medical care and doctors’ bedside manner, a new study found.
The research, published Monday in the journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care, found that TV doctor dramas “may cultivate false expectations among patients and their families.”
It won’t come as a surprise to fans or even casual viewers of the show, given the ABC hit’s proclivity for absurdly attractive physicians and wildly bizarre cases over its 14-season-and-counting run. Just a few cases of note on Grey’s are the guy who was mauled by a tiger, another who sawed off his own foot, a child who couldn’t feel pain, a women with toxic blood and a man who appeared to be morphing into a tree. Each patient and each case, of course, were treated with the dignity, attention, respect and kindness that most real people walking into hospitals across the country can only dream of.
But it’s important for real-life patients and doctors to be aware of this Grey’s effect and to approach healthcare with more realistic expectations, the study said.
“Patient satisfaction is a big deal these days,” the paper’s author Jordan Weinberg told Time. “It’s become a measure of quality. 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.”
Two trauma doctors and a nurse practitioner watched all 269 episodes available from the first 12 seasons of Grey’s for the study and focused specifically on the 290 trauma patients who visited the fictitious Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. They took notes on their demographics, admission patterns, length of stay in the hospital, severity of injury and case outcomes. The study participants then compared their observations from the episodes with real patient information logged by the National Trauma Databank.
They found a number of discrepancies between reality and Shondaland.
The patients on Grey’s tended to have more severe conditions and symptoms than typically found in reality, and they got worse at a faster rate from the time they entered the emergency room to when they were transported to the operating room.
They also typically had one of two outcomes — they died or recovered in the hospital for a short amount of time before being discharged. About 22% of the patients on the show ended up dead, the study found, compared to 7% of reality. And many trauma patients in the real world face long, difficult recovery periods after receiving treatment for their wounds, the study said.
On TV shows like Grey’s, real doctors and medical consultants are brought on set to make the procedures and cases as realistic as possible, but the length of each episode and dramatic plotlines between the characters requires some leeway. But the writers still remain aware of what they’re putting in front of viewers and remain conscious of the impact the show may have on the public, the research noted.
“I personally draw the line at inaccuracies that could hurt a viewer,” current third-year medical resident and past consultant and writer for shows including “The Resident,” and “Code Black,” Roshan Sethi, told Time. “For example, saying smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer would be irresponsible.”
But show’s like Grey’s are, as most people know, purely fictional, and meant to be absorbed by viewers with a large grain of salt. There’s no real harm in watching the show or others like it, the study concluded.
“We don’t watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to be educated. We watch it for entertainment value,” Weinberg 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.”