TV giving bad information about seizures

When your favourite hospital drama star is treating a patient who’s having seizures, you might want to pay more attention to what’s revealed about the doctor’s personal life than what he or she is actually doing.

When your favourite hospital drama star is treating a patient who’s having seizures, you might want to pay more attention to what’s revealed about the doctor’s personal life than what he or she is actually doing.

It turns out that popular medical dramas don’t always portray medical treatment accurately. A new study found that seizure care in particular was depicted appropriately less than half the time on major fictional medical shows.

“People who are watching these television shows and don’t know how to respond might get the false impression of how to provide first aid, and, when they’re trying to help someone having a seizure, actually do some harm to them by stuff they learned on television,” said researcher Andrew Moeller of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The study looked at the depiction of seizure care for all episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, House, M.D., and Private Practice, and the last five seasons of ER. The research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Toronto, Ontario, in April.

In nearly 46 per cent of seizure cases, characters on these shows delivered inappropriate treatments such as holding the person down, trying to stop involuntary movements or putting something in the person’s mouth, the study said. The shows did show proper treatment about 29 per cent of the time, and in the remaining 25 per cent of the time, the accuracy of the portrayal couldn’t be determined.

Proper care for seizing patients is to clear the area of dangerous objects, put something soft under the head, rotate them onto their side, make sure they don’t hurt themselves while convulsing, and provide support by just being with them until they return to consciousness, Moeller said. Do not stick something in the patient’s mouth, he said.

First aid for seizures was provided by “nurses” or “doctors” in nearly all of the televised cases, he said. Viewers may be more likely to believe that the kind of treatment they’re seeing is real if doctors, rather than nonmedical characters, are performing it, he said.

The researchers have not yet broken down which shows were better or worse at depicting seizure first aid, he said.

The findings are not surprising to Dr. Lisa Sanders, technical adviser to House, M.D. and author of Every Patient Tells a Story. Her New York Times Magazine column was one of the inspirations for the show.

“It’s clear to anybody who watches ‘House’ and has ever been in a hospital that ‘House’ is not a close representation of the truth,” she said.