There was a time when the series of lawyers became fashionable, then it was the turn of journalists, high school teachers … but interest in doctors never wanes and titles set in healthcare settings always enjoy good health in the big and the small screen. ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Family doctor’, ‘Awakenings’, ‘Central Hospital’, ‘Patch Adams’, ‘Emergencies’, ‘Red bracelets’, ‘MIR’, ‘New Amsterdam’ … The list goes on and on, but not only that, even in tapes where the story has nothing to do with health, hospital scenes are sneaked in. Dramatic almost always, although many times unreal or not very credible.
Those who are dedicated to health hunt errors on the fly, some of them bulk, but the rest generally go unnoticed with the hustle and bustle of the plot. For example, if you were a fan of Dr. House, you might be surprised to learn that the series missed its medical treatment in half the episodes of the first seven seasons. In addition, up to 41% of the cases were confused when naming diseases or making certain translations of medical terms; The reality was exaggerated in almost a third of the chapters, using, for example, technological prototypes still under study; and the expected result of the tests was modified in 26% of the scenes. This was revealed in 2012 by the book ‘House: Pathologies of truth’ (Dolmen Editorial).
Although perhaps the biggest mistake was a very recurrent one in this type of fiction: attribute to doctors the ability to do absolutely everything. This is, that the same plastic surgeon makes a diagnosis of neurosurgery as it appears when checking a broken bone or operating on the heart. And this is not the case. “Medicine is a huge field and it is divided into very specialized areas. The image projected in the fiction of multipurpose doctors is false and creates the feeling that Spanish doctors are not as versatile as Americans, given that the great producer of medical series is the United States, “laments Lorenzo Armenteros, spokesman for the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG).
The defibrillator is not missing
And the nursing staff? It is not uncommon for it to be conspicuous by its absence and it is the doctors themselves who also administer medications to patients, place the lines or measure their blood pressure. For its part, “The figure of a sexy nurse in a short gown has also been highly exploited, as it appeared in the series ‘Family Doctor’, although it is no longer common”, thanks Armenteros. It is because it is increasingly common for screenwriters to have medical advisers.
Jorge Matias-Guiu, head of the Neurology service at Hospital Clínico San Carlos (Madrid), participated as an advisor in the Spanish series ‘Hospital Central’ and ‘MIR’ and recalls how they worked to avoid making mistakes. “The process was as follows: I would prepare a case and send a summary to the scriptwriters. They incorporated it into the script, they sent it to me to review it and, later, I sent them the suggestions or changes that I considered appropriate, “he says. He assures that «The jump from a real event to its dramatization in a script is very interesting, but not easy. It requires viewing the scene from both sides. The clinician must understand that the case needs to be attractive to the audience and avoid references that a viewer without medical knowledge will not understand. And the scriptwriter, for his part, has to understand that fiction cannot be very far from reality and must be consistent with it, because at the end of the day a mixture of entertainment and medical education is being projected to society.
In his opinion, moreover, “not only do you have to review the cases on paper, which is often done, but actors must be trained in medical and nursing attitudes and language ». “A scene cannot appear in which a surgeon tells someone a clinical case, because it violates the confidentiality of the patient, and it should be monitored that the principles of asepsis are observed in the sequences recorded inside an operating room, such as actors do not appear in street clothes and without a mask, hat, gown or gloves, “he says.
However, this balance is not always maintained. And, usually, it is prioritized that the story is attractive to the viewer. Thus, «we find errors such as access to diagnostic tests immediately, without waiting or delays. An advantage that does not exist even in the most specialized hospital “, says the SEMG spokesman. Doctors also appear who place the stethoscope (apparatus for the auscultation of heart and respiratory sounds) upside down, who analyze radiographs that are face down or who take blood from a patient and transfer it directly to another without doing any compatibility test previous.
In a good medical drama, there is also a scene with a defibrillator: the patient goes into cardiorespiratory arrest, the electrocardiogram shows no heartbeat (asystole) and hey! electric shock. Does it sound familiar? Well this is never done like this. In cardiac arrest, specialists explain, the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) maneuver is used, while the defibrillator is used when abnormal heart rhythms occur, such as ventricular fibrillation.
But for an unlikely situation that of the protagonists who suffer a head injury and do not remember their names or who they are. “It is impossible. Long-term memory is specific, not global, so traumatic amnesia only covers a short time and cannot affect self-knowledge, “explains the neurologist. “Nor is it possible that during a period of global amnesia an act is performed that would not have been done under normal conditions. For example, if someone commits a murder in a period of global amnesia, they are a potential murderer who wanted to murder first. Murder is not a consequence of amnesia, “he adds.
Hospital love affairs
What to say, too, of comatose patients who breathe autonomously, as shown in the film ‘I spoke to her’, taking into account that in this state it is necessary to be connected to a respirator. For its part, the drowned who drop a trickle of water from their mouths and revive as if nothing are not too close to the truth.
And how to forget the sauce that the protagonists of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ bring. Loving relationships between doctors and patients, residents and assistants … There, whoever does not come out paired is because they do not want to! “There is a popular belief that health personnel tend to hang out and this is shown in fiction. The truth is There are many unions between them and perhaps it is due to the fact that in contexts where dramatic situations are experienced, such as illness and death, human relationships and emotions intensify between people who live together», Points out Armenteros. Of course, the insistence on the love question that the scriptwriters do and that seductive image of the actors that the doctors embody is not realistic.
It is true that without some of these licenses we would not be hooked on even half of the films and series set in hospitals that we see, so Matias-Guiu proposes an alternative: «As it is pointed out that a film is’ based on facts real ‘, which means that it does not exactly match reality, it would be interesting if a note appeared indicating that the clinical pictures that are staged have been adapted in favor of the story ». To which Armenteros adds: “Even with medical advice, cinema has to remain cinema, even if it serves to send informative messages on health aspects.”