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Fact or Fiction: How Accurate is the Medical Profession Portrayed on TV Shows?

Sometimes, it doesn’t take a doctor to notice how wrong some drama scenes look like.

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Fact or Fiction: How Accurate is the Medical Profession Portrayed on TV Shows?
Image: KBS2
TV shows are often seen as a form of escapism, which explains why some indulge in sleepless nights of binge-watching their favourite shows. There’s a plethora of TV shows in the market to suit everyone’s cup of tea and it is easily accessible anytime, anywhere. Most producers or scriptwriters nowadays try to indulge in a more realistic storyline when it comes to TV shows. Although a fantasy narrative may also work wonders, as humans, we often seek something that comes off more relatable to us.

We noticed a trend that’s catching up in Malaysia which features multiple professions as the main theme and premise of the show. From doctors, firemen, cops, to army personnel, it seems that there’s a TV show for almost every common job. The good thing about it is at least our local producers have started to move on from the cliché storylines with keywords such as “Isteri ku…” or “Suami ku…”.

It is said that most successful TV shows usually revolve around doctors and hospitals. If you’re familiar with the show ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scrubs, we know you’ll understand why. Apart from Western dramas, Asian dramas have also incorporated the same theme, going on to produce hit TV shows such as the Korean drama, Doctors. In Malaysia, we also have our fair share of locally produced dramas with a similar theme such as Misiku Kuza and Misiku Sado.

Image: FOX
Image: SBS
But, how accurate are these dramas at giving an actual representation of the jobs they’re portraying? Do the emergency scenes really depict what goes down in an emergency room? Are the medical apparatuses used correctly?  Did the doctor pronounce the words and described the patients diagnose correctly?

As a viewer and layman who has little to zero knowledge regarding the medical field, it’s easy for us to believe everything that’s represented in these dramas. Our gullible minds will least likely stop for a moment to ponder the legibility of what’s being shown to us. But lo and behold, not everything is done the right way and as a result, it has angered those who spent years to earn a medical qualification.

Dr Khairul Hafidz, who has a steady following of over 85,000 followers on Twitter, has been very vocal about the misleading representation of medical scenes in dramas. Last year, his tweet thread showcasing photos from local dramas displaying an inaccurate depiction of actual hospital cases went viral. Using the hashtag #perangmelawanmitos (debunking myths), he aims to educate the public about this issue. 
  “This is why I’ve suggested a long time ago, if you’re planning to do a drama which involves medical scenes, please consult a real doctor. Nebulizers aren’t for patients who are in a coma,” he said.

We asked a local nurse, Baitie Zahid, who has close to 10 years of experience and has spent two years in the children’s ward and emergency room, what she thinks of this growing ‘epidemic’ in the entertainment industry.

“At first I wanted to laugh after hearing how illogical some apparatus were used such as the neck brace. I’m just baffled over the fact that they placed it over the patient’s face instead of the neck. But after watching these drama scenes with my own eyes, it irked me a lot. This just shows these drama producers have no idea what they’re doing and don’t even have the initiative to study it first before filming.”

Image: Dr Khairul Hafidz
So, what should these producers do instead to overcome this problem?

“They should be more aware and consult doctors or nurses beforehand. Research is really important. Failing to do so may result in some confusion amongst the viewers. They will not be able to differentiate what is wrong or right.”

“As an example, let’s take the scene where the patient is in coma and is commonly seen with nebulizer mask. Usually, patients do not have to wear that mask EXCEPT asthmatic patients. So, it’ll be really ridiculous to see every patient in every show wear the mask and coincidentally have asthma.”

Image: KBS2
Most dramas we watch often end up with over-dramatised scenes and plots, which may stray far from the reality of the job. Is it as glamourous as it looks? Do they really have time to fall in love with another doctor or nurse? Do people scream and shout in panic all the time?

“There’s a stark difference between what is painted on TV shows compared to our job in real life. We are very busy. Sometimes we don’t even have the time to eat or even have a chat with one another as you see on TV. We’re only able to do these things after our shift ends.”

Perhaps it is time local producers be more aware of this issue that’s plaguing our entertainment industry. They should  take a cue from the Korean drama, Doctors, which consults an actual doctor for every medical-related scene.
 
As for Azmir Fakkri, a medical content writer who holds a medical science degree from University College Dublin in Ireland, the misleading portrayal of medical scenes may hold some serious repercussions.

“Misleading lifesaving facts or procedures may cause someone’s life. How? If someone has zero knowledge on how to carry out certain procedures such as CPR, and follows blindly whatever he or she sees in a drama, it will most likely cost someone’s life.”

A local Malay drama, Misiku Sado (which translates to 'my male nurse has a muscular body') has received some public backlash over the inaccuracies shown on their show. Just take a look at this CPR scene:
 
If you want to know how a real CPR looks like, consult a medical practitioner or you can look up 'American Heart Association' or 'British Heart Foundation' for the correct way to administer a CPR.

Another significant error this show has made is stating the emergency number for Malaysia. Perhaps due to influence from Western shows, the actor asks his other cast member to dial 911 for help. In Malaysia, the correct number would be 999 or 112. The producers should’ve taken the opportunity to use the correct number to help educate the public as they know thousands of Malaysians will be watching the show.

Image: TV9
Image: TV9
Although the error in number may not be as bad as it seems, there’s one scene which involves explaining the patient’s diagnose that should not have happened.

Image: TV9
Image: TV9
After the male nurse confirmed that the patient has hypertension, he went on to say that her blood pressure was low. Logically speaking, even though you have minimal knowledge of medical terms, most people would know that hypertension means “abnormally high blood pressure”. Of course, one can argue that not everyone knows what hypertension stands for, but that doesn’t grant you the right to give false information to thousands of viewers.

Besides local dramas, notable international ones also have their fair share of errors. In the scene where Dr Derek Shepard dies on Grey’s Anatomy, he was seen with a bloody bandage on his head, some wires sticking on his chest, and a tube placed in his mouth. As a layman, we wouldn’t be able to tell if there’s anything wrong with that scene, but for medical practitioners, they’re practically shaking their heads in disbelief. This even prompted a meme over Shepard’s death.

Image: ABC
Image: Tumblr
According to Azmir, the endotracheal intubation (ETT) should enter the mouth until the carina, which is the area right before your lungs split into right and left. Shepard’s tube was probably inserted until his tongue so it’s no wonder that medical practitioners are joking about his death. The main function of the ETT is to help open your airways so that you can receive anesthetic, medication, or oxygen. This procedure is common for patients who have difficulty breathing or have stopped breathing.

One of the best medical dramas around with the most accurate representation is Scrubs, according to this article. The show’s creator, Bill Lawrence, enlists his friend and former college mate, Dr. Jonathan Doris, who is a cardiologist, to act as a medical advisor on the show. Some of the episodes were also based loosely on Doris’ past experiences.

Image: fr.fanpop.com
Image: Superb Wallpapers
We hope that our local productions will take the initiative and effort in making an accurate representation of the medical profession. We have aplenty of professional doctors and medical practitioners who are willing to lend their time to help create a more realistic setting and scene. Although some shows are done solely for entertainment value, there is no harm in educating the public and giving them the correct impression of the medical world.
 
 
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