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‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Traumas Lack Realism

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Traumas Lack Realism

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Say it ain’t so: another TV hospital show pumps up the drama at the expense of realism, researchers said.

Trauma patients on the veteran ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” were more likely to go from the emergency department directly to the operating room, and were more likely to die than actual trauma patients, according to a study published in in Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.

Whereas almost three-quarters of “Grey’s Anatomy” trauma patients went from the ED to the operating room, in real life the percentage is 25% (P<0.0001), reported Rosemarie O. Serrone, MD, of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and colleagues.

And as in all good dramas, fictional trauma patients were also significantly more likely to die than real life patients (22% versus 7%, P<0.001), the authors wrote.

While not involved with the research, Ryan Stanton, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician in Lexington, Kentucky, told MedPage Today that very few doctors like to watch healthcare on TV because of the medical inaccuracies, with Fox’s drama, “The Resident” being the latest target of frustration.

Stanton added that these shows do influence people’s expectations. He said that medical inaccuracies on television dramas are getting worse, because “they just don’t take the time or the money to get qualified people to consult.”

Philip Glick, MD, professor, vice chair for finance at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York had a different perspective.

“This is a study I actually thought of doing years ago, but didn’t have the will to watch 269 episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy,'” he said. As a pediatric surgeon at a level 1 trauma center, he recalled fond memories of watching the show with his daughter in 2005 when she was a freshman in medical school, as a way to spend “medical time” together in a non-intimidating way.

“The authors point out important statistical differences between [fictional and real life patients], but as they say in SoCal, that’s show business,” Glick, who was not involved with the research, said.

Serrone and colleagues examined 269 episodes from 12 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” (2005-2016) and compared the trauma patients depicted there to those in the 2012 National Trauma Databank Inpatient Sample. The NTDB sample comprised 4,812 patients; the fictional doctors from Seattle Grace/Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital saw 290 trauma patients.

Average age of TV patients was unsurprisingly younger (34 versus 41 in real life) and TV patients were more likely to be female (40% versus 30% in real life). Even the average Injury Severity Score was relatively higher on television, at 14 versus 12 in real life. (Some of the data on fictional patients was necessarily guesswork.)

In addition to being significantly more likely to be taken to the operating room from the ED, Stanton said he was surprised that the death rate was higher for “Grey’s Anatomy” patients.

“Usually TV and movies are just the opposite, and give patients a false sense of survival,” he said.


When examining the significantly lower portion of patients with a length of stay less than a week, and an injury severity score of 25 or higher (20% versus 50% in real life), Glick noted, “that’s admirable — most hospital executive and discharge planners would be envious.”

Stanton said he wasn’t surprised that a significantly higher portion of real life patients versus TV patients were discharged to long-term care (6% on TV versus 22% in real life).

“Recovery doesn’t make very good TV, so they’re not going to show that part of it,” he said. “They take out a lot of the connections. Instead of A to Z, they drop out half the alphabet” due to time constraints.

Serrone and colleagues said they hoped to establish a “baseline understanding of public perception of the trauma patient experience” and “the influence of mass media” on these perceptions.

“I just want to be able to work > 80 hours per week and look as good as good as the cast,” Glick said.

In case you wondered, no grant funds were used to support the study.

The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.


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