Patient Expectations in the Era of Grey’s Anatomy

Paging Dr. McDreamy!

Beginning it’s 15th season Fall 2018, Grey’s Anatomy is one of the most popular medical dramas in America. However, the frequent medical miracles, hyperbolic scenarios (how many plane crashes can happen at a single hospital?), and overblown tragedy may be having an effect on how real life patients perceive standards of care.

The BMJ published an article entitled the “Grey’s Anatomy Effect” which set out to determine if television created over idealistic patient expectations. The study compared trama incidents in real life versus those depicted in television dramas by screening 269 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and comparing against data from the 2012 National Trauma Databank (NTDB).

Findings from the Study include:

  • In Grey’s Anatomy 71% of emergency room patients went straight to the operating room versus just 25% in real life
  • Of those who survived surgery, 6% of television patients were transferred to long term care versus the 22% in actuality
  • For those with severe injuries, Grey’s Anatomy depicted 50% of patients having a one week or less length of stay whereas the NTDB reported that this number is closer to 20% of patients

The BMJ concluded that television patients move from the emergency room, to operating room, to home very quickly. This portrayal of speedy recovery may generate unrealistic expectations for patients.

In addition to recovery timelines, Grey’s Anatomy and other shows provide miraculous recoveries spurred by the character’s passion and knowledge of innovative operations and procedures. While any clinician will be quick to point out the many inconsistencies and improbabilities of the show, patients may not understand the realities of being a patient.

So what can hospitals do to mitigate the “Grey’s Anatomy Effect”? For one, it is critical to actively listen to what patients are saying. Instead of assuming what a patient’s goal may be, ask and set expectations around meeting their personal achievements.

Most importantly, when a patient expresses a concern with their care, hospital staff should take the necessary steps to document, resolve, and follow up on any issues. As CipherHealth’s CNO, Lisa Romano recently said, “Nurses and physicians as well as ancillary team members can make a profound impact with some very simple behaviors: Listen to the patient. Understand what it is important to them. Do what you say. If the patient communicates a concern, make sure it is addressed timely and effectively. Demonstrate caring behavior.

Although shows like Grey’s Anatomy may distort patient perceptions of care, there are many ways that hospitals and their staff can live up to expectations by taking the time to listen to and act upon patient needs.

Read on to learn more about how hospitals can take an active role in improve patient experiences.

MJ Moody, Marketing Events Manager, is based in CipherHealth's New York City headquarters. MJ manages CipherHealth's thought leadership events that focus on best practice sharing among the nation's leading health systems. She spearheads the annual Partners in Excellence User Conference and manages CipherHealth's presence at national tradeshows and events. MJ is an avid reader, baker, and makeup addict.