Are Medical Dramas Really that Accurate?
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
I’m proud to admit that I’ve watched all 18 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy so far (twice, actually) and I’ve watched House MD about thrice.
I know what you’re thinking - “I would trust her to be my doctor.” But before you put your life in my hands, let’s check how close to reality these medical dramas actually are!
With so many medical shows out there, there are bound to be some shows which are more medically accurate than others and as much as I would love to, it’s unfortunately quite impossible for me to review all of them. Instead, I’ll be reviewing 5 popular medical shows to see how well they hold up in the real medical world.
Disclaimer: As a CNM Student, I have absolutely no knowledge about the accuracy of these medical dramas so everything below is backed up by tons of research.
This show follows a group of young practising doctors who face the realities of modern-day medicine and issues as they learn the ropes with the help of a seasoned senior resident. They do use a lot of good medical terms that are accurate and procedures seem to be performed with a decent level of accuracy. However, there are some pretty serious HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations that occur - for example, taking a selfie in the operating room. Another criticism was that this show made doctors look like superheroes who are able to solve cases almost immediately but in reality, doctors are more focused on stabilising the patient, before diagnosing them. Hence, out of the 5 shows included in this article, this ranks as the least accurate.
From hospital shootings to plane crashes and hospital explosions amongst many more catastrophes, this hospital really has seen it all. Internally, we have seen interns and residents make egregious mistakes without much consequence but is it really this easy in reality? Also, this show is laced with romance and heartbreak in every corner. Quite literally, everyone has had some sort of relationship with everyone else and according to medical experts, there is simply no time for that sort of life in the real medical world. That being said, it is true that the majority of the cases are medically accurate (because the show doesn’t go very in-depth). Given both sides of the argument, I would say the show comes in at number 4 on this list.
As my all-time favourite show, I couldn’t resist including this one. House MD, often referred to as “medical sherlock”, centres around Gregory House, a misanthrope, who works with his team to solve rare and complex medical cases. The show has been criticised for featuring cases that are too rare but since the premise of this show is about diagnosing rare cases (aka zebra conditions), that criticism seems to be a little out of place. Due to its incredible scientific rigour (not my words), this show definitely ranks fairly high on the list. However, it is not without its flaws. While the show does quite well with talking about true scientific conditions, the way Dr House goes about is just reckless. From berating his patients to illegal home checks, Dr House and his entire team would have had their medical licenses revoked in the real medical world. According to a real-life physician, Scott Morison, “the writers got it right the majority of the time - even if Dr House was addicted to painkillers and still employed by a hospital…”. In conclusion, although this show isn’t quite the most medically accurate, it isn’t the least medically accurate either, so it gets the number 3 spot.
The Good Doctor
This show centres around Dr Shaun, a medical professional who is diagnosed with autism. The way this shows explains medical conditions in a reasonable, easy-to-understand way and yet still uses medical terminology is a key reason it ranks so high on this list. In fact, an interview with the show’s medical consultant, Dr Oren Gottfried revealed how he suggests medical incidents from real life to the writers of the show. He even went on to share, “While some cases do seem outlandish, the fact is they’re really medical truth”. This show does come with small errors in depicting protocol and basic procedures, but that is forgivable considering how accurate most aspects are. The show also delves into how hard it is for Dr Shaun, as an individual with autism, to gain the trust of his colleagues as well as adapt to working in the medical field. This did bring a lot of controversy regarding how well autism was depicted but that is a conversation for another day. With so much to love about this show, it comes in hot at number 2.
Grey’s anatomy and other newer medical dramas owe their success to this show as it was widely successful in the 1990s. And for good reason too, as this show tops this list for the most medically accurate show out there. ER is centred on the emergency room doctors, nurses and staff of County General Hospital and how they grapple with ups and downs in their personal and professional lives. This show has impressed with its attention to detail and realism. Doctors claimed that the show did a good job of capturing the fast-paced nature of the emergency room and the exhausting lives of emergency-care physicians. Of course, this is not a perfect depiction of reality as they sometimes do go overboard and make diagnoses too quickly or dramatically but the accuracy, especially with how long this show has been around, makes it a topper for many medical professionals. As you’ve already guessed, this show takes the number 1 spot.
So, there you have it! 5 popular medical shows ranked from least accurate to most accurate. I can safely say that after watching ER I will basically be a professionally qualified doctor.