TV medical dramas 'rife' with breaches of professional conduct

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Washington, Mar 27 (ANI): A new study has found that TV medical dramas are 'rife' with ethical dilemmas and actions that often ran afoul of professional codes of conduct.

A medical student and faculty directors from the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics analysed depictions of bioethical issues and professionalism over a full season of two popular medical dramas-"Grey's Anatomy" and "House, M.D."

The authors of the review say they were well aware that their findings would end up stating the obvious.

But they nonetheless wanted to provide data that would shed light on the relationship of these depictions on the perceptions of viewers, both health professionals and the general public.

"I think the utility in our study is that it provides a starting point for a discussion," fourth-year medical student Matthew Czarny, a researcher at the Berman Institute, said.

"In no way are we saying that these shows are educational in and of themselves," he stated.

An earlier analysis by the co-authors, along with fellow Berman Institute faculty member Marie Nolan, Ph.D., found that more than 80 percent of medical and nursing students watch television medical dramas.

That study also concluded that the programs may prompt students to think and talk about bioethical issues.

In analysing the second seasons of "Grey's Anatomy" and "House M.D.", Czarny counted 179 depictions of bioethical issues, under 11 different topics, ranging from informed consent to organ-transplant eligibility to human experimentation.

Berman Institute Director Ruth Faden, Ph.D., the Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics, and the institute's deputy director for medicine, Jeremy Sugarman, M.D., the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine, designed the study, helped develop the coding and ensured the quality of the findings.

Given the vivid portrayals of clinical practice and bioethical issues in medical dramas - albeit through storylines that sometimes stray into the realm of outlandish - the co-authors began systematically eyeing the programs in the genre several years ago to assess the nature and extent of the depictions.

"Grey's Anatomy", now in its sixth season on ABC, is one of the most watched prime-time television series in the country and chronicles the lives of five surgical interns and their attending and resident physicians.

"House", which airs on Fox and is also in its sixth season, follows the medical maverick Dr. Gregory House and his trainees, as they diagnose and treat only the most difficult cases.

Informed consent was the most frequently observed bioethical issue.

Of 49 total incidents, 43 percent involved "exemplary" consent discussions, while the remaining instances were "inadequate".

In general, exemplary depictions portrayed "compassionate, knowledgeable physicians participating in a balanced discussion with a patient about possible treatment options".

Conversely, inadequate depictions were "marked by hurried and one-sided discussions, refusal by physicians to answer questions" and "even an entire lack of informed consent for risky procedures", the authors state.

They also tallied 22 incidents of "ethically questionable departures from standard practice", most of them depicting doctors endangering patients unnecessarily in their pursuit of a favourable outcome.

"In almost all of these incidents (18 out of 22), the implicated physician is not penalized," the authors noted.

The findings have been published in the April issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. (ANI)

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