Monday, September 10, 2007

Medicine As Fiction

Whether on television or in the movies, the way in which medicine is depicted in fictional settings has changed dramatically over the years.

  • Traditional soap operas like General Hospital stick to the guidelines followed by old-fashioned medical dramas like Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare. In the classic tradition of Greek tragedy, brutality and gore are kept out of the soap opera audience's sight (the story line may be filled with romance and intrigue, but very little blood is depicted onscreen.)

  • In grittier, less romantic genres, the writers for programs like Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, and The X Files must embrace medical accuracy in order to make their plots believable. Script writers for these programs cannot rely on gunshot wounds for every murder or attribute each mysterious death to abductions by aliens from distant galaxies. Nor can the writers for series like Law & Order, NYPD Blue, or L.A. Law. As a result, a great deal of forensic medicine and toxicology is woven into the plots of these programs.

  • Meanwhile, programs like E.R. have raised the "gore quotient" by including shots of open wounds and footage of actual surgery. The language used in these programs is the same as the language used in any Emergency Room.

  • Even a medical comedy like Scrubs has had a profound impact on viewers, to the point that they feel they know their way around a hospital environment because of all the time they have shared with their medical "TV friends."

Viewers may not always know what is meant when a doctor orders "a CBC, pulse oximetry, and electrolytes," but they are quite familiar with the words. The more they hear this language and become comfortable with its usage, the more likely they are to try using it themselves.

Next: Realistic Depictions of Medicine

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