Myths in Medicine: How Many do YOU Fall For?

Code Black

Great acting? You betcha. Great healthcare? Uh . . . no.

There are few things in life goofier than the wildly inaccurate TV and movie depictions of America’s health care system. So if you ever want to see your favorite Paramedics laugh out loud – or physicians or nurses, for that matter – have them sit down and watch the adult cartoons of House, Grey’s Anatomy or Code Black. Trust us; these programs play out more science fiction than Star Trek.

Myth #5: Doctors spend days on-end focusing on one patient who happens to have a fascinating disease.

Reality: Not even in the Twilight Zone of medicine is there a “Dream Team” of genius MDs with all the time in the world to spend on one curious case. On House, for example, the fictional star of the program Gregory House, leads a team of 3 expert diagnosticians. In each episode, they take on a single weird case referred to them by other baffled physicians, and the whole team puts all their energy into figuring out the medical mystery. In real life? No such Super Hero team exists. It’s pure fantasy. 

Myth #4: Rubbing the defibrillator paddles together before we shock the patient

Time to give those defibrillator paddles a rub while the thing charges up, right?

Reality: Science fiction. Rubbing paddles together is completely pointless. 40 years ago on TV’s Emergency! they rubbed the paddles together to spread the electrode gel evenly and because it looked cool. No gel anymore, and to real medics the ‘paddle rub’ looks stupid.

Time to move into the 21st Century. We use saline pads now.

Myth #3: The White Coat at all times.

Reality: News flash! Most medical centers have been stripping medical staff of their ubiquitous white church-garb for over  10 years because they are filthy. Infection control pros report the typical lab coat worn by your favorite MD is extremely likely to harbor disease-causing bacteria and truly nasty bugs, like MRSA.

So, when Medical Miscreants started telling readers 9 years ago, to Never trust a doctor in a lab coat – we knew what we were talking about. Some lab coat bugs are nasty enough to attack kittens on your lawn. Even if the docs don’t kill you, their cooties certainly can.

Myth #2: Doctors can do anything and everything.

Reality: Nearly all medical programs over the past 35 years have been the worst culprits, peddling this particular professional-level joke.

Not only are typical MDs clueless when it comes to many skills that RNs can do with their eyes closed, they are generally and astonishingly inept at IV insertions, CT scans, analyzing Paramedics EKG strips or casting a broken bone. Thank the Lord we have lab techs, pharmacists, ultrasound pros and respiratory therapists, among a whole ton of really smart others. Ask any Paramedic: the last people we ever want to see on an emergency scene are doctors, because they rarely have the slightest idea what to do, or how to do it.

Here’s a hint you might want to wrap your brain around: the doctor is not always the smartest person at your bedside. And for that you should be very, very grateful.

Myth #1: Television viewers are pretty smart. They know that medical programs are fiction, so the procedures don’t need to be accurate.

Reality: Fictional medical programs have enormous impact on public behavior. 

Studies have consistently shown that the lay-public buys into all manner of errant medical issues, like the overt staff-drama going on around the patients (trust us: the medical staff really doesn’t care that much); patient survival after CPR (pretty much never) or ER staff running around shouting orders (pretty much never) or doctors saying “screw the rules, just save a life!” (Just as never. Trying too hard to save a life is a guaranteed fast-track to a very short career).

Health researchers have also looked at the negative impact of nurse/physician relationships portrayed in shows like Grey’s Anatomy, and how the distortion of reality confuses patients in real-time. The Center for Nursing Advocacy, for example, says the way these shows bend the truth has serious consequences in real life. When people see doctors doing all the “skill work” nurses in the real world fail to get the respect they deserve. Yet when the Center for Nursing Advocacy approach TV networks and offer to consult on scripts involving more realistic nurses, they get almost no response.

Another, perhaps more important consequence of shows like Code Black, is that people come away convinced that healthcare is more effective than it actually is.

The  movie message is that more testing is better than less; new treatments are better than the old; experimental operations offer the best hope. In fact, fewer tests are often better than more; new drugs are often worse than old drugs; and millions of surgeries are not only dangerous, but totally unnecessary.

And so, dear readers, we say again: be very careful which gods you pray to.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation on Television — Miracles and Misinformation (New England Journal of Medicine)


One thought on “Myths in Medicine: How Many do YOU Fall For?

  1. @GaryCPR says:

    Article quote “Some lab coat bugs are nasty enough to attack kittens on your lawn. Human or not.”

    Your pet eats a poison or drug Veterinarian will give respiratory assist and any antidote, not torture them with chest compression’s only. Why would we allow this to our women and children?

    Welcome to Canada where the Ontario Poisons Centre suggests we withhold the breath of life to poisoned (drug OD) patients. Hope these clincians don’t suffer any overdose mimic, layperson’s are eager to follow orders in the belief they are saving lives.

    Margaret Thompson, M.D. ‘Street Opioid Resuscitation Recommendations’ For the General Public Accessed March 12, 2017

    Margaret Thompson, M.D. ‘Street Opioid Resuscitation Recommendations’ For Pre-Hospital and Hospital Care Accessed March 12, 2017

    My letter ‘Flaws in Toronto’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program’ EMN 2015; 37(12):31 With hyperlinks to Public Health Ontario’s training literature.

    Anosognosia it is a severe form of denial. Anosognosia is quite different than simple or temporary denial. It is not simply denial of a problem, but the genuine inability to recognize that the problem exists. Usually this is caused by brain damage.

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