Non-reality TV

So much drama: Reality meets Grey’s Anatomy—and real life expectations

No cliffhanger here. Researchers found the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” may cultivate unrealistic patient expectations about surgery and emergency medicine.

As most doctors can attest, the chasm between how medicine is portrayed in television dramas set in hospitals versus the reality of an actual hospital experience is vast.

Now, in a new paper, researchers who watched 269 episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” a popular long-running TV drama about the lives of surgical residents and physicians, found that the show’s portrayal of trauma is not only improbable but may cultivate unrealistic patient and family expectations after injury.

The researchers created a registry of each fictional trauma portrayed in the television series and compared it with data from a genuine patient cohort.  The comparison found that the show was more morbid—with patient mortality three times higher on TV than in reality—and less realistic about long-term care.

Just 6% of trauma patients transferred to long-term care on the TV show, compared with 22% of actual patients. On TV, the rate of surgery was also much higher, with 71% of patients on the television series going straight from the emergency room to the operating room, compared with 25% of actual patients.

A popular 2014 contribution to The DO by a surgical resident outlined some of the major discrepancies between “Grey’s Anatomy” and real life through a first-person perspective.

“By portraying the residents’ lives as exciting, dramatic whirlwinds, the show makes real-world residency seem less difficult,” wrote then-general surgery intern Amanda Kirzner, DO, MPH. You can read it here.

View the research paper in greater detail here.




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