Don’t Watch Medical Dramas Before Surgery

Who doesn’t like a good medical drama? TV shows make the medical treatment process dramatic, exciting and uncertain – just what you want when you sit down to watch television.

Not necessarily what you want if you’re actually a patient, though!

A new study published in European Surgical Research has found that people become more anxious about undergoing surgery if they watch medical TV shows beforehand.

And can you really blame them? Routine surgical procedures just don’t make good TV, so no surprise that your average medical drama is less than reassuring for most surgical patients!

In the study, researchers surveyed 162 patients before and after surgery. Rating their anxiety on a 1-10 scale, half the patients reported anxiety levels of 4 or higher.

Thirteen people altogether described their experience as a 10 – what the researchers called the “highest imaginable degree of fear.” All of these thirteen people were frequent viewers of medical dramas.

Overall, medical TV show watchers reported being more scared about their upcoming surgeries than other patients. Although the study didn’t establish cause-and-effect, the idea that watching medical dramas could make people more wary of undergoing surgery doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Previous research has shown, to the surprise of exactly no one, that TV shows can give a skewed picture of medical treatment. For example, a 1998 study of 64 episodes from the British medical dramas Casualty, Cardiac Arrest and Medics found that about half the patients experiencing cardiac arrest in these TV shows were under 35 years old – suggesting that the average cardiac arrest patient on TV is significantly younger than the average patient in real life.

Let’s not be too harsh on medical TV shows, though. Many medical drama plot lines have parallels to situations doctors actually have to confront, which is why some medical educators have proposed incorporating medical TV into med school classes. And realistic or not, medical dramas can be good fun.

Still, if you have a surgical operation coming up, you might want to think about turning off the TV for a few days – or at least changing the channel!

Image: Flickr/Cristian C under CC BY-SA