The survey of more than 350 patients, technologists, and radiologists in the U.S. also found that the TV shows can help educate the public to the benefits of radiology and other healthcare issues.
Lead study author Dr. Tobias Heye, from the department of radiology at Universitätsspital Basel in Switzerland, and colleagues distributed questionnaires to 126 patients who were in a hospital for imaging, as well as 133 technologists and 107 radiologists, who replied to the survey online.
The survey asked respondents whether the portrayal of radiology compared to their real-life experiences, if radiological exams were shown, and how often did radiology staff appear on the TV shows "House M.D.," "ER," and "Grey's Anatomy."
The questionnaire collected data on the respondents' demographics, TV viewing habits, and their level of interest in medical TV shows. They also were asked if they could identify any radiology personnel on the three shows, how often did the programs show something radiology related, and did radiology play a role in a diagnosis.
"The most important question was to ask patients: How do you think radiology compares from what you know from TV to the actual experience when you come to a [radiology] department and get a scan?" Heye said. Patients rated their perceptions on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 as very realistic.
Heye and colleagues found a moderate to significant correlation between the interest in medical TV shows and the viewers' perceptions that clinical reality was accurately portrayed in the group of patients (r = 0.49, p = 0.001) and technologists (r = 0.38, P=0.001). But radiologists appeared most skeptical, replying there was virtually no correlation between the portrayal of their profession on TV to reality (r = 0.01).
In the patients' survey, between 45% and 54% of respondents said they could identify who was the radiologist on the show, while between 32% and 47% of technologists also could pick out the radiologist. However, the radiologist's appearance was perceived by only 16% to 23% of radiologists.
"ER" was rated at the top among all three groups as the TV program that most accurately portrayed radiology. All three groups also agreed that radiology played an important role in diagnoses more than once on the three shows.
"Before I started in medicine, I watched 'ER' and said, 'Oh, that's pretty cool,'" Heye recalled. "We are broadcasting a lot of health information and topics through those series. I think if they would be more careful with what they actually show, we can use that in a positive way."
Medical TV programs apparently can influence viewers' perceptions and knowledge. In his ECR presentation, Heye cited a study from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that more than 60% people who watch healthcare-related TV shows retain factual content from the programs long after an episode has aired.
The TV shows are an "educational tool and we have to be careful what we transmit there, because it sticks with the population," he added.