Common Medical Inaccuracies in Medical Dramas

Posted by National CPR Association | Medical Care Mar 21, 2017

We may all be down for a marathon viewing of House MD or Grey’s Anatomy, but remember that what you see should not be taken as valid medical techniques or advice!

Medical Team Working On Patient In Emergency Room

When it comes to medical care, hearing “I’ve seen this on TV,” isn’t something that instills comfort or confidence in anyone. When it comes to CPR, this especially true. Unlike the way actors on TV perform CPR, and the unrealistic results they get, CPR in real life is quite a bit different.

 

A common scenario in medical dramas is the patient flat lining and the dreamy doctor storming into the room, grabbing the defibrillators, giving them a good luck rub before placing them on the patient’s chest and bringing him back to life. It’s great drama, but it just isn’t real. Of course, TV shows don’t have to be fully based on reality, but when it comes to CPR, it is so far off that it really does need to be examined.

 

TV gives the impression that about 55% of the people being resuscitated from cardiac arrest survive. That is an amazing, albeit, wholly inaccurate reflection of real life. Anyone that has worked in a hospital, or the healthcare field in general, knows such a percentage is a pipe dream.

 

Take a look at the CPR survival rates from three popular medical dramas:
• ER – 68%
• Chicago Hope – 64%
• Grey’s Anatomy – 46%

 

Compare those numbers to the actual survival rates from these medical studies:

• Journal of the American Medical Association study: Only 2% of adults who collapse on the street and receive CPR fully recover.
• American Heart Association study: Just 8% of people who suffer from cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive.
• National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study: A mere 15% of patients who receive in-hospital CPR are successfully resuscitated.

 

It’s plainly clear from the above cited statistics that what medical dramas depict is a far cry from reality. If you polled laymen, most would believe CPR survival rates are closer to TV portrayed numbers than real ones. A small, but significant portion, believes their odds of surviving CPR are even better than TV depicts. It is tough to come up with an exact survival rate, but most research estimates the actual survival rate is between 5-10%.

 

Flat lining patients are similarly portrayed in an unrealistic light on TV. Coming back from a flat line heart monitor reading is not as simple as being zapped back to life with the defibrillator. When a heart ceases contracting, a massive shock of electricity is going to do nothing for it. A defibrillator is designed to help revert an irregular heartbeat back to a normal rhythm, not restart it like jumping a car battery. The correct treatment would be to administer CPR and epinephrine.

 

Even when a shock is required, the problem with the manner in which defibrillator use is portrayed on television is that it is almost entirely wrong. The notion that rubbing the defibrillator paddles together before applying them to the chest of the patients laughable! It looks good on screen, but in real life it would do nothing more than ruin a good piece of equipment.

 

The paddle placement shown on TV is also almost always wrong. Correctly done, one pad is placed on the right center of the person’s chest above the nipple, and the other pad slightly below the other nipple and to the left of the rib cage.

 

While it really isn’t worth the energy to get spun up about medical procedures not being wholly accurate versus real life, knowing how things really work is best. Medical dramas on TV are not meant to be educational, and the suspension of reality for thirty minutes to an hour isn’t the worst thing that could happen – just don’t let it spill over into real life.

 

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