RxCreative was founded to create a bridge between medicine and entertainment. We figure that applying storytelling to medical and scientific ideas will make them more accessible to patients and doctors. Likewise, it seems obvious that bringing accurate and interesting science and medicine to entertainment will educate people in ways that PowerPoint presentations and brochures at the doctor’s office never will. But one of the things about science is that it’s never a good idea to assume that because something is obvious it’s true. Which brings me to this paper by an old mentor from medical school, John Lantos.
Dr. Lantos was an early sponsor of one of the the projects that lead to the creation of RxCreative — a production of Michael Cristofer’s THE SHADOW BOX that we toured to medical schools across the country to start a discussion about death and dying. A few years before that, he published this study looking at the difference between survival from CPR on TV and in the real world. As you would expect, the victims of cardiac arrest on medical television shows tended to be younger (and more beautiful) than your typical patient getting chest compressions. And they survived to discharge at a remarkable rate — 75% versus a real world average of closer to 3%.
What the paper doesn’t do is measure the effect of this inaccuracy on the people watching these shows. But it’s not hard to imagine that seeing almost everyone whose heart stops on television survive would lead people to expect that for their loved ones too. And you can imagine that failing to meet those expectations would be devastating for everyone involved. My own practice has taught me that America is, at the very least, overly optimistic about the potential of “modern” medicine to cure illness and prevent death. That’s a crazily rosy view of a reality where at best we support the body’s natural healing abilities — most of which remain a mystery to us.
What does that mean for the way RxCreative advises entertainment professionals? It means we may suggest stories that don’t follow the simple arc of the miracle save. There are an infinite number of stories in medicine, and there are infinite ways a story can be heroic and heartwarming without perpetuating myths that do our patients a disservice.