'Grey's Anatomy' not like real ER

Partick Dempsy is one of the stars of Grey's Anatomy.
Partick Dempsy is one of the stars of Grey's Anatomy.

As much as you might love watching the popular TV drama Grey's Anatomy, don't mistake it for real medicine, researchers suggest.

If you do, your expectations may exceed reality if you ever find yourself in an emergency room.

Death rate three times higher on show

The researchers, led by Dr Jordan Weinberg, from the department of surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, compared the TV portrayal of treatment of 290 trauma patients in 269 episodes of the show with more than 48 000 actual patients treated for trauma in 2012.

While 71% of patients on the TV show went straight from emergency care to an operating room, that happened in only 25% of real-life cases. And only 6% of trauma survivors on the TV show were transferred to long-term care, compared with 22% of real-life patients.

Half of the seriously injured patients on the TV show spent less than a week in hospital, compared with 20% of real-life patients. And the death rate for trauma patients on the TV show was three times higher than in real life – 22% vs. 7%.

The study was published in the online journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.

"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 authors wrote.

Divergence from reality

"Hence, American television medical dramas tend to rely on storylines 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 US hospital," they noted.

"The balancing act between the presentation of the realistic and the dramatic can actually result in a skewed perception of reality among television viewers," the authors warned.

"Divergence of patient expectations from reality may, in fact, contribute to lower levels of satisfaction," they said in a journal news release.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
31% - 9571 votes
69% - 21719 votes