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Medicine in Movies: What Films Get Wrong

A first responder in blue vinyl gloves interlocks their hands and prepares to perform chest compressions on a patient.

Movies transport us into different worlds and realities, but when it comes to medicine, they often fall short. While Hollywood may excel in drama, it often sacrifices accuracy for storytelling, leading to misconceptions about medical practices and healthcare.

Follow along as we explore what films get wrong about medicine, sickness, and death.

Miraculous Recoveries

In many movies, a character can be on their deathbed one moment and completely recovered the next. The reality of medical recovery is far from instantaneous.

Healing involves extensive treatment, rehabilitation, and time, which directors rarely depict accurately on screen. This misleading portrayal can set unrealistic expectations for people facing serious illnesses.

Unrealistic Depictions of CPR

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a critical lifesaving technique, but films often misrepresent its effectiveness.

In reality, CPR is a demanding process that few people have the training necessary to perform. Films show this technique working almost every time (even Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park!). Additionally, the physical effort and emotional toll of performing CPR rarely receive screen time.

Dramatized Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms in movies are chaotic yet strangely efficient. Patients receive immediate attention no matter how busy the ER might be.

In real life, ERs prioritize cases based on severity, which can mean long wait times for less critical issues. This dramatization fuels misconceptions about the efficiency and accessibility of emergency medical care.

Oversimplified Diagnoses

In films, doctors often diagnose complex conditions within minutes, usually without any testing. Real-life diagnoses require detailed tests, consultations with specialists, and waiting for lab results.

This oversimplification diminishes the audience’s understanding of the medical process and downplays the expertise required for accurate diagnosis. While many doctors might wish they had the magical medical insight of the team on House, M.D., it simply isn’t realistic.

Misleading End-of-Life Care

End-of-life care is another aspect frequently misrepresented in movies. Films often skip the complexities and emotional struggles families face during this period.

Depictions often struggle to show decisions about palliative care and hospice, two medical programs the public already misunderstands more often than not. Even nutrition near the end of life can be difficult for directors to accurately portray on screen. Sometimes, filmmakers gloss over the gravity and nuance of these decisions and topics for dramatic effect.

While movies enchant us with their stories, they often mislead us about the world of medicine. By recognizing these common mistakes, we can better appreciate the line between fiction and reality.

Remember, while Hollywood provides entertainment, real-life medical practices are far more intricate and deserving of respect for their complexity and precision.

So next time you watch a medical drama, keep a critical eye on what films get wrong about medicine and sickness and enjoy the thrills with a grain of salt.

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