Medical TV dramas often show wrong first-aid response to seizures
Dalhousie Medical School researchers have concluded that seizure victims are best to stay clear of Samaritans who have learned their first aid from television medical dramas. In more than half the epileptic seizures depicted by Grey’s Anatomy, House, Private Practice, and in the last five seasons of ER, the scriptwriters got the medical response wrong.
Given the influence of the medium, the research team is calling on people with epilepsy to lobby the television industry to insist on proper first aid responses to seizures.
To obtain the study findings, Andrew Moeller, a third-year medical student, watched 280 hours of television medical drama including every episode of Grey’s Anatomy, House, Private Practice, and the last five seasons of ER. Moeller tallied 364 episodes.
When Moeller found a clip showing a seizure, he copied it and sent it to his three research partners: Dr. Mark Sadler, a Dalhousie epileptologist, Dr. Jeremy Moeller, Moeller’s brother and a neurologist, now completing a two-year fellowship at Columbia University in New York, and to Susan Rahey, the research coordinator for the Epilepsy Program, supported by the divisions of neurology and neurosurgery in the Department of Medicine at Dalhousie and Capital Health. The research team reviewed the clips and compared the dramatic action against the Epilepsy Foundation’s Guidelines for Seizure First Aid.
Fifty-nine seizures were found in the plot lines, and 46 per cent of the dramatized medical responses by the doctor and nurse actors were considered inappropriate. They noted such poor medical form as holding a patient down, attempting to stop involuntary movement, and putting something in a patient’s mouth while a seizure was in progress.
In about 29 per cent of the cases, the dramatic action was medically correct. The remaining seizure incidents were considered indeterminate, in terms of the appropriateness of the pseudo-medical response, because they were on screen too briefly to judge.
"The idea came from Dr. Mark Sadler. He had seen some medical television dramas and how inaccurately they performed the first aid. He was very interested in doing a study on the anecdotal evidence he saw. My brother worked with Dr. Sadler doing his residency and we were linked through him. I came up with the study design based on previous studies looking a CPR on television. The project took flight after that." - Andrew Moeller
"If someone was to base their first aid management on medical television shows and try to help someone out, they might be doing some harm." - Andrew Moeller
"Inappropriate seizure first aid could result in a full range of injuries to patients, from minor cuts or bruises to serious dental injury to fractures, joint dislocations or even death from choking." - Andrew Moeller
"(Referring to medical dramas): “The first aid of patients has been examined before. It would be nice if treatment of patients was accurate and reliable. However, the general public will not be faced with situations where they will need to treat certain diseases. They may be faced with an event where they will have to provide first aid to someone. Therefore, accurate first aid depiction is paramount. Two studies, one in the New England Journal of Medicine and one in the Lancet, looked at CPR." - Andrew Moeller
- Allison Gerrard, media relations manager, Dalhousie Medical School; 902.494.1789, firstname.lastname@example.org