Brief Overview:  It is common to find the film industry tackling medical issues, but, do they always benefit the “culturalization”?

Versión en español: aquí.

Such a brilliant health?

For the majority of the world’s population, nowadays, there exist a myriad of means that allow us (or facilitate) to enrich ourselves with new knowledge about different topics: culture, history, technology, art, health, etc. Thus, such knowledge can reach the population without causing a huge cost for people who require it, even it can be found for free. So, in this context, a part from the well known means such as the Internet, books or magazines, we find the film industry. This, in quite a number of cases, tries to bring knowledge closer, in an original way, to the public, so that everyone who wants it can increase his or her culture about an specific area while enjoying. Notwithstanding, following the line of a well informed society, I consider that we must be critical when analysing what is being transmited to us, since assimilating certain ideas that may be wrong, could result in ignorance or ineptitud.

It is well known the amount of films or TV series that include in their main plot certain contents related with this scientific area: medicine. Nevertheless, due to the lack of research by the management teams, we can notice some errors that boost the wrong dissemination of medical expertise. In this way, incorrect knowledge arouses, which leads to the ignorance of the spectator. For this reason, I will present three common medical mistakes found in the film industry, supporting them with scientific arguments which make up for the right learning of the addressed issues.

  1. Is it strictly necessary in every single cardiac arrest the use of a defibrillator?

Erroneous scene: Vis a Vis (2015).



First of all, it is common to find in several films that scene in which a victim is suffering a cardiac arrest. Being clinically monitored after having arrived from the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), it is seen a “flat line”on the screen of the electrocardiogram (ECG), which represents the asystole. This means that there is no electrical activity found in heart, and therefore, this is not capable to execute the required movements in order to pump blood. After analyzing this ECG, the EMS uses a defibrillator on the torax of the victim applying an electric discharge that, generally, causes the reversion of the asystole to a rythm of activity that is compatible with life, boosting the spontanous recovery of the individual.

Nevertheless, according to the European Resucitation Council (ERC) manuals, a defibrillator is not found in the algorithm to treat the asystole. Instead of this, the chosen method constitutes the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which consists on chest compressions and the administration of vasoactive medication, this is, medication with cardiac effects.

  1. A patient who is in coma does not breath spontaneously.

Erroneous scene: Talk to Her (2002).


As a second example, we will relate the existing contradiction between an image of a character in coma and the treatment carried out by the medical staff. Thus, before refuting the given information in this kind of scenes, we will define some key concepts which will facilitate the reasoning process. Theoretically, a coma is a deep diminution on the consciousness, this means, there exists a serious deterioration on the consiousness state caused by a grave and acute brain dysfunction. In other words, the effect on the central nervous system (brain) jeopardizes certain body functions ordered by such system. Hence, among these affected functions, we can find pulmonary ventilation (inspiration and expiration movements), an involuntary process (although we can modify it voluntary in some way) directed by the respiratory center, located in the brain. In this way, we can conclude that a scene in which a patient in coma is shown breathing spontaneously is illogical. In fact, according to what has been previously argued, it is required the aid of a respirator which ventilates the lungs, since these are unable to do it by themselves. Therefore, the character should necessarily appear intubated, this is, the actor should have a tube inserted in the trachea, connecting the lungs with the respirator (process know as intubation).

 Correct scene: If I Stay  (2014).


  1. The discipline intra-surgery must not be violated.

Erroneous scene: Awake (2007).


Last but not least, we will take into consideration the commitment of the established discipline in the scenes of procedure in an operating room. This commitment depends basically on the people in charge of the therapeutic activity, this means, all those people who participate in the surgery. Therefore, it is incoherent that actors appear dressed with inappropriate clothing in intra-surgery scenes, (generally, with street clothing), since a surgery is a restricted area to authorised personnel. Likewise, according to the current regulation, the established clothing consists on hair cap, smock and mask, so that the principles of sterility, (absence of pathogenic microorganisms prone to cause infections) are not violated. Consequently, those scenes in which these scientific fundaments are not obeyed are and will be unwise.

Correct scene: If I Stay (2014).


Carlos Berlanga Macías.

Translator: Laura García Olmedo.

  • Castro P. Paciente con alteración de conciencia en urgencias. Anales Sis San Navarra. 2008; 31 (1): 87-97.
  • Misas M, Milá S, Expósito I. Coma. Finlay. 2006; 11 (1): 45-51
  • European Resuscitation Council. Soporte vital avanzado. 1ª ed. Madrid: varios; 2010.
  • Ministerio de Sanidad y Política Social. Bloque quirúrgico: estándares y recomendaciones. Madrid: Ministerio de Sanidad y Política Social; 2009.

Licencia de Creative Commons
Health: Medical Errors in Film Industry. by Carlos Berlanga Macías/Laura García Olmedo is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional License.

Acento cultural, número 15, octubre 2015, ISSN: 2386-7213

[El contenido de esta página web, imágenes y datos, son propiedad de sus autores. Corresponde a ACENTO y a sus autores los derechos de explotación de este contenido registrado bajo nuestra publicación digital con ISSN: 2386-7213. Este material está protegido con la Ley de Propiedad Intelectual y su difusión total o parcial está permitida siempre y cuando se cite el enlace de esta web o la autoría de los creadores. Muchas gracias.]