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Medical Practice on Screen: The Other Side of the Picture

Submitted by on June 25, 2014 – 1:22 AM

url-218Media has the power to catch attention. Various researches establish that mass media shapes people’s ideas about health issues, and that entertainment plays a bigger and better role in this process than factual output. Particularly during the last few years, the overwhelming drive of Electronic Media has provided a strong platform to boost health education. Media, in all its forms, has been leading in creating mass awareness. But there is another side to it which is responsible for creating some negative perceptions about medical practice in the general public.


The way electronic media has invaded our homes and our lives, no one can deny the gross impact it is creating on our personalities and perceptions. Without any doubt, the strongest tool of electronic media is movie and now with such easy access to it, it has dramatically changed our perceptions. Health issues and medical practices have been hot and triggering subjects for movies especially the Hollywood movies. There have been numerous highly rated movies and drama series, which are solely based on these subjects.


Particularly, psychiatry has had a harmonious relationship with cinema. Regardless of the motive a movie maker has behind making such a movie, the portrayal of a character who is mentally handicapped and the treatment protocols are almost always far from reality which is usually illusive for the general public. For example ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) is so commonly shown as a therapeutic approach for psychiatric patients whereas in standard medical practice it is considered as the last resort and rarely used. According to a research presented at the American Psychiatric Association 2011 Annual Meeting, “Depiction of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in cinema is exaggerated and scientifically inaccurate.”


A senior study investigator (Mansoor Malik, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry, Howard University Hospital, in Washington, DC) stated that movies are a staple source of information and entertainment for masses, and such negative views of an important psychiatric treatment further stigmatize mental illness in society. A survey performed among medical students from UK and Australia revealed that viewing the ECT scenes changed attitudes toward the treatment; after viewing, one-third of the students declined their favor for ECT, and the percentage of students who would discourage a family member or relative from undergoing ECT increased from below 10% to almost 25%.


The injudicious use of medical restraints and drugs, misuse of medical knowledge and skills in the name of research or for malicious purposes, the routine use of uncommonly performed, painful or displeasing procedures; all such stuff shown in these movies creates a sense of hatred and resentment not only about the procedure but also about the medical personnel in the public and this might be a strong reason if a person hesitates to seek medical help. Not all but certain local programs are worse in this regard. Taking advantage of the charm that white coats create on a screen, some producers manage to come up with a storyline in which the information put forth is completely baseless and in no accordance with medical knowledge and profession.


Every profession has its good and bad sides. Media has the responsibility of bringing correct information to the public. There is no harm in bringing reality to the people but at times the electronic media shows masked truth. In recent years, corruption in medical profession has been highlighted in movies and programs, quite as a trend, may be to gain audience.


But where medicine is considered a sacred profession, such exaggerated display of corruption in medical field not only raises doubts in minds of people but also damages the sanctity of the profession. Any content with judgmental view about a sensitive issue may lead the people to misinterpret and as a result the reputation of professionals is at stake. At times the media, in the race of time, may hide truth or project false information. It is the media that can make a mountain out of a molehill.


So for electronic media, there is a need of collaboration or multidisciplinary approach involving film makers or T.V producers, medical professionals and people with the specific medical or mental illness alongside family members to ensure true and accurate depiction of medical conditions whether in the form of documentaries or fictional films. Unauthentic portrayal, of any sort should be discouraged not only by professionals but also by public. Any content dealing with professional malpractice must only be displayed after full verification and with complete responsibility. In a nutshell, the electronic media should play its role in its true sense so that the general public remains well informed rather than misinformed.



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