Follow TV Tropes

Following

Artistic License Medicine

Go To

"Osamu Tezuka was educated as a doctor, so the stories are rich in medical knowledge and experience. Except, of course, when Tezuka decides that it would be more fun to just make crazy shit up. Which is pretty much constantly."

Injuries or illnesses requiring medical attention are a ubiquitous feature of fiction. With very few exceptions, even those who write medical dramas are not doctors themselves. Many have real doctors as consultants, but even with that, there are still things that would never happen in real life that make it into a show to preserve Rule of Drama.

Advertisement:

These inaccuracies can be especially dangerous if presented as accurate through medical series, leading to well-meaning bystanders causing more harm than anything else. When in doubt, call the professionals.

May be related to Artistic License – Biology. See also Artistic License – Pharmacology, and Medical Treatment Tropes.


Subtropes:

  • AB Negative: For a notoriously uncommon blood type, there certainly are a lot of characters who turn out to have it for plot (in)convenience.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: While low temperatures can bring an illness out of its incubation period, or make it harder to fight an already-present infection, they cannot give you an infection. The real reason for colds and flu being more common in the winter is a combination of dry air and proximity.
  • Clean, Pretty Childbirth: Anyone who's actually seen a birth knows they can be quite messy.
  • Advertisement:
  • Convulsive Seizures: Not the only types of seizures out there.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: CPR can be dangerous for both the rescuer and the patient, with oral diseases being spread, the risks of ribs being broken, or the victim vomiting. And it's not usually successful.
  • Easy Sex Change: Transitioning takes months of therapy, including hormone treatments; it simply isn't possible for Alice to have a single operation and wake up as Bob (or vice versa). Also, biological males cannot become pregnant or have periods.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture: Electroconvulsive Therapy has been performed safely for decades. It's also been shown to be a positive treatment for several mental illnesses. Also, unlike the fictional depictions, the patient is quietly asleep while it happens, thanks to muscle relaxants and short-term anesthetics.
  • Advertisement:
  • Flatline Plotline: Defibrillators also cannot be used to temporarily stop and then restart a heart, they do stop it but not restart.
  • Giant Medical Syringe: Syringes bigger than the person using them are very impractical for both the doctor and the patient.
  • Heal It with Booze: While straight ethyl alcohol is a decent disinfectant, most alcoholic beverage contain sugars, additives, flavors, etc. that aren't good to introduce into an open wound. There's also the possibility of contamination if the bottle has already been opened. And even straight ethyl alcohol is mostly used to disinfect unbroken skin, for example before an injection, as when it is introduced into an open wound, it can cause tissue necrosis.
  • Hollywood Healing: Unless it would be more dramatic for them not to, wounds that should be immobilizing, fatal, or otherwise require significant recovery time heal up between episodes or even between scenes, and rarely leave scars.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Heart attacks don't always present with chest pain. Many times, especially in women, they present with much more vague symptoms of nausea, heartburn, dizziness, "a sense of dread," etc.
  • Instant Drama, Just Add Tracheotomy: Don't do this, unless you have actual medical training.
  • Instant Emergency Response: Traffic exists, especially if you live in a distant rural community or a busy urban one.
  • Instant Illness: Diseases have an incubation period; you don't come down with one as soon as you're exposed to the bacteria or virus that causes it. A number of illnesses are dangerous and hard to treat precisely because there is a long incubation period, during which the victim can pass the disease to others while unaware that he's infected.
  • Instant Sedation: If you know exactly which drug to use, exactly what dose to use, and can put it directly into a vein, you can put a person (safely) out in seconds. Otherwise, you'll either kill your target or have to wait several minutes for them to fall over. That's why there's an entire specialty in medicine dedicated to it.
  • Kiss of Life: Most of the time, if someone has stopped breathing, their heart has stopped. So it won't work. note  Furthermore, owing to the risk of transmitting common illnesses, most artificial ventilation is carried out by mechanical ventilators in a hospital setting, and you certainly won't see mouth-to-mouth ventilation carried out by doctors for this same reason.
  • Lethal Diagnosis: Needless to say, being diagnosed with tropeosis does not magically progress it to advanced tropeosis.
  • Magical Antibiotics: Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not any other type of pathogen. Also, overusing them can result in the bacteria evolving resistance.
  • Magical Defibrillator: A defibrillator just temporarily stops an irregular heart rhythm, it doesn't fix it, and it doesn't do jack for a flatlined heart (asystole). CPR and cardiac medications are required to start a heart and then to get its rhythm back to normal.
  • Magic Antidote: Even with an antidote, it takes time to recover from damage.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: There's healing, scarring, and bruising the same as any other surgery.
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: While fictional surgeons may open Bob's entire chest cavity with a chainsaw, real surgeons cut as little as possible. A number of procedures can be done through the large blood vessels, removing the need to open Bob up at all.
  • Non-Standard Prescription: Doctors aren't in the business of issuing prescriptions for things that don't require one.
  • One Dose Fits All: Body mass and other factors affect how much a poison (sedative, medicine, etc.) can affect a person, and how long it takes to be used.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: A serious injury is a serious injury, no matter how badass you are.
  • Open Heart Dentistry: This only happens in emergencies, when there is no other doctor nearby.
  • Playing with Syringes: Anyone caught experimenting on humans without their informed consent would be shut down immediately.
  • Pull the I.V.: This is a good way to get septicemia. Don't do it.
  • Roadside Surgery: Medical professionals would do this only as a last resort. The risks of operating in a non-sterile environment are higher than the risks of trying to manage the patient's condition until they could get to a hospital.
  • Self-Surgery: More likely to go horribly wrong than go well. Not only is there an extremely high risk of infection, you can also die from blood loss or any careless mistakes. Even if you DO survive, you’d likely pass out from the pain.
  • Shot to the Heart: No modern doctor would do such a thing. Instead, they would inject epinephrine into the vein.
  • Suck Out the Poison: Bad idea. It can cause infection, it can make the area swell, and it won't do much good, especially if swallowed. Don’t even think about cutting the bite wounds open or peeing on a jellyfish sting, either.
  • Surgeons Can Do Autopsies If They Want: Autopsies are a specialized field and require additional certification. An autopsy done by an unqualified person would like be invalid in court. Also, that surgeon's time would be better spent elsewhere.
  • Tap on the Head: There's not much space between "out for a second" and "permanently damaged." Certainly a victim of head trauma will not be unconscious for hours and wake up with nothing worse than a headache.
  • Televisually Transmitted Disease: Rare diseases or disorders that somehow always appear in fiction.
  • Urgent Medical Alert: Most of the time, alerts are ignored, except for certain ones.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: It depends a bit, but generally serious illnesses make people look at least a bit unwell and they generally affect the activity levels of the sufferer too, especially the kind of illness that makes people pass out. The Artistic License goes double in the cases where the disease is called "consumption" since that's the old-fashioned name for tuberculosis, which involves fatigue, sweating, and sometimes phlegm or swollen lymph nodes.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: Bullets do all their damage on the way in. Once they stop moving, they're generally harmless. They may even be acting as a 'plug' on the wound, preventing the victim from bleeding out.
  • Worst Aid: Performing inept medical treatment — especially some of the stuff shown in media — is usually more harmful than doing nothing at all.
  • Wound Licking: Saliva might contain some anti-bacterial and tissue factors, but it's not sanitary.


The following examples do not fit on any subtropes:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Sword Art Online: The "Mother's Rosario" arc (volume 7 of the book series, last third of season 2 of the anime) deals with Asuna befriending Konno Yuuki, an Ill Girl who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion given to her mother during a C-section. While it is medically possible to get HIV from a transfusion, it's anachronistic enough to be extremely unlikely: this would have happened in 2010 given the in-universe dates. Blood centers began testing donations for HIV-1 in 1985 and the rarer HIV-2 strain in 1992, and the practice has only been intensified in the years since. According to the Red Cross, at time of writing your chance of getting even the commoner strain this way is about 1 in 2 million.
  • Triage X: Multiple-organ transplant operations are part of many characters' backstories, including Arashi. This would normally provoke an immune response, killing the transplanted organs, requiring a lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs, but the series gives a plot-relevant justification: While serving with a Doctors Without Borders-like NGO, Dr. Mochizuki discovered a village where a folk medicine treatment involving a virus and its vaccine were used to suppress immune response in crude transplants. He refined the technique, but the virus was so contagious and so lethal without the vaccine that he and his team decided to suppress knowledge of it rather than risk a worldwide epidemic.
  • Turns up in the backstory of Tyranno Kenzan in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. While on an archaeological expedition when he was younger, Tyranno fell and broke his leg. Rather than do something completely unreasonable like getting him to a hospital, they performed an on-site surgery to replace his broken bone with that of a dinosaur that they had dug up. Not even getting into how they just happened to find a dinosaur bone the exact size and shape of the shin-bone of a maybe ten-year-old boy, or how fossils of bones don't actually contain any bone (it's converted to rock in the fossilisation process).

    Comic Books 
  • In DC's latest reboot, Superman performs surgery on Lois Lane to save her from a gunshot wound. And he does every step past the obvious one of using his X-Ray vision as wrong as he can. He starts by putting gloves on—and then immediately cutting a hole in them for the only part he actually touches her. Then instead of removing the bullet, he uses his heat vision to vaporize it and then uses that same supervision to cauterize the wound shut. The writer is apparently unaware that heating lead to the point of vaporizing it would have cooked Lois from the inside out, and that cauterizing a wound is not the same thing as welding metal together — it isn't a quick healing that doesn't leave a scar so much as it is a fast way to seal bleeding wounds, and cauterizing two pieces of skin like that would ensure they don't heal together at all.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Apprentice and Pregnant: Applefur is a cat who suffers from delusions. To help with the hallucinations, her medicinecat tells her to eat a mixture of poppy seeds and yew leaves every day. This wouldn't do anything in real life and is more likely to make a cat ill than anything.
  • The Boy Who Cried Idiot: Lincoln gets scars instantly after the raccoon scratches him. In real life, scars take a while to form.
  • Child of the Storm makes a point of subverting this, allowing for the author being quite clear that he's not a medic:
    • While Harry donates blood to Carol in the sequel on the spot (it being an emergency), it's made clear that he's got type O blood a.k.a. 'universal donor'.
    • In chapter 55 of the sequel, the author (who has epilepsy) also makes painfully clear that grabbing and trying to restrain someone who's having a seizure, as Harry does, is an incredibly bad idea (while also pointing out that Harry wouldn't know this and had reasons for wanting to do so). This is because it will only lead to both people getting hurt. Rather, he explains you should try and make sure that the area around them is clear so they don't get hurt, call emergency services. It initially added, 'and make sure they don't swallow their tongue' (but don't stick your fingers in their mouth, as it is "unhygienic and stupid, as they will probably bite you"), before the author was reminded that swallowing one's tongue is a myth (he's a bit embarrassed about that, apparently).
  • The blood transfusion in Chapter 10 of Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness, done without any attempt at cross-matching blood types, and with two people donating blood, was quite risky, with about a 35% chance Colin would die from blood type incompatibility note .
  • In I Prooped My Pants, Ryan Stiles is cured of his amnesia with anti-amnesia pills. In addition, the hospital cafeteria is staffed by doctors.
  • Amoridere acknowledged this in the tags and notes for one of Kill la Kill AU fanfics, with Ryuuko's fever being about 112 degrees and the fact that she was running said fever for more than 48 hours. As she's stated in the note, she figured Ryuuko would have died from said fever, along with noting that she did research but didn't get clear answers. In-story, it was pointed out that Ryuuko's body was starting to shut down, as a result. However, she probably wouldn't have been able to recover from that so quickly.
  • In The X-Files fanfic Look After You, Scully suffers from what's diagnosed as a chest and throat infection, but it causes her to vomit and pass out.
  • In Not as Planned, someone dies from "catching a bad cold from being out in the rain". The common cold comes from a virus, not from cold weather. The setting is so primitive, the characters would know nothing about viruses. It is also possible that the cold weather weakened the immune system so the viral cold became deadly. Extreme cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, which has different symptoms.
  • In The Loud House fanfic Snotty Sickly Linky, Lincoln has a cold and the cure is to walk around in his underwear. In actuality, cooling the body down makes it harder to fight infections, not easier.
  • In Time Lords Never Get Sick, the Doctor gets a cold that lasts for three weeks. In reality, colds don't tend to last longer than ten days.
  • In Travels of the Trifecta when Paul faints after the Canalave Gym battle, he stays unconscious for at least a few hours, which would be an abnormally long time in real life and would be a sign of something much more severe than exhaustion and influenza/severe cold. Possibly justified by his terminal chronic illness that is revealed later on in the story, although this instance still stands out as unusual when compared to the other times in the story when he is rendered unconscious. In Chapter 10, for example, he wakes up from Mars knocking him out in a much quicker amount of time.

    Film 
  • In Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, a doctor explains that a character has gone blind because "both optic nerves have separated from their respective corneas". The optic nerve and the cornea are literally as far apart as two parts of the eye can possibly be. The writers likely meant "...from their respective retinas".
  • In the 2018 Bollywood film Andhadhun, a character says that another's corneas will be used for transplantation if the blood types match. Because corneas have no blood vessels, matching blood types is not necessary for transplantation.
  • Awake. Oh boy, Awake. Along with making the same mistake as the below-mentioned Seven Pounds (only with medication instead of jellyfish venom), there are a few. For instance, how the anesthesiologist is allowed to just step out of the operating theater to make a phone call when it's his job to stay there to make sure the patient isn't starting to wake up before the surgery is complete. Or how the donated heart for the surgery shows up AFTER they have already opened up the patient. Although, according to Film Brain at least, this helps makes the movie a so-bad-its-good experience for both non-experts and medical professionals alike.
  • Black Widow (2021) takes something the title character spoke of in Avengers: Age of Ultron, about the Red Room assassin training ended with forced sterilization, and escalates to what would actually harm the super killers: Yelena says that along with the womb the Red Room also removes the ovaries, cutting the body's oestrogen and causing premature menopause, which has several negative health effects, including reduced bone density.
  • In Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, when Andy is on a hospital bed, the leads to the EKG unit are completely misplaced. They're not a bit off - they look like they were slapped on by someone just trying to make things look medic-... Oh, yeah. When they are moved to another person, they are similarly slapped on incorrectly. This kind of thing normally triggers an alarm if the machine thinks the leads are misplaced or the rhythm detected by the machine is way off. Nothing sensible would come out from simply putting the leads in the wrong places, likely triggering an alarm, though hospital staff don't always react to an alarm with the urgency you'd hope.
  • Casino Royale (2006):
    • Whenever Le Chiffre uses his inhaler he puffs out - thus exhaling (rather than inhaling) his medicine.
    • When Bond is poisoned, he is advised to use the defibrillator and combopen. The former is not used as it can increase the dysrhythmia, while the latter would have no effect.
  • Darkman:
    • The spinothalamic tract is stated to transmit pain and vibration. It actually transmits pain and temperature. Also, no doctor would call the pathways within the spinal cord "nerves" (they're axons or nerve fibers), and severing them would do nothing to prevent Westlake from suffering unbearable pain from his burned face.
    • The synthetic skin cells are stated to have a membrane potential of 122 megavolts. The human cell membrane potential is measured in millivolts, making this off by a factor of a billion.
  • Doctor Strange (2016): Medical staff go unmasked in the operating room, wash their hands too quickly, clean themselves in the wrong order, have painted nails (an infection hazard), don't follow standard medical roles, demonstrate poor bedside manner, have poor administration, and repeatedly violate HIPAA rules on patient privacy.
  • Face/Off: Obviously, there's no known way to do a full face swap yet. They at least say that it's a newfound, cutting-edge technique (so don't pretend this isn't fiction), plus some alterations to make their bodies alike in other ways. However, Archer and Troy still have different builds which would be a dead giveaway for people who know them well, since those can't be altered (they aren't even with the fictional surgical wizardry).
  • In Fight Club Tyler gives the Narrator a chemical burn and informs him that "water will react with it and make the effects worse" while "vinegar will neutralize the chemical", and so vinegar is applied to "cure" the burn. While Tyler's reasoning in and of itself is technically correct, it ignores two important things: Water will also wash it away, and an acid neutralizing a base is an exothermic reaction (meaning it releases heat). In real life the vinegar would have neutralized the lye but also release a lot of heat, giving severe heat burns to his already damaged flesh and making the wound much worse, while the water would have flushed the lye from his flesh before it could actually worsen its effects.
  • How to Catch a Cold: This short has a few myths, like being cold can lower your resistance (which is only true if there's a rapid change in temperature or if you're already fighting an infection), and that viruses can survive for weeks on surfaces (they generally only survive about a week on surfaces). The live-action version was made to counter these myths.
  • The Peanut Butter Solution: The main character loses his hair after being scared by ghosts. A doctor calls it "the Fright, though the correct medical term is 'Hair-em Scare-em.'"
  • Ricochet: After Styles is rescued after being drugged and kidnapped by Blake, he's informed about having gonorrhea due to his blood work. This is wrong on so many levels: first, the only STDs that show up on blood work are syphilis and HIV. Second, these are based on the body's antibody response, so it takes a while to turn positive, not overnight as in this scenario. Thirdly, doctors only run tests that are actually medically needed (or at least the ones they are sure they'll get paid for!). Since they didn't know he'd been raped or had unprotected sex, there would never have been a test for that (only whatever drugs he had).
  • Seven Pounds has Will Smith's character commit suicide by box jellyfish so he can donate his organs to people he thinks deserve them. Box jellyfish venom would have made his organs unusable since it damages cell membranes.
  • In Some Came Running, the doctor says that alcohol adds large amounts of sugar to the blood. Alcohol, in fact, lowers blood glucose levels by inhibiting gluconeogenesis. (In fact, diabetic hypoglycemia has almost-identical symptoms to drunkenness, such that insulin-dependent diabetics often carry written instructions on their person to emphasize they're not drunk, just in need of glucose).
  • In Street Kings, Ludlow says that his wife died because she had a blood clot in her brain, and it burst. Blood clots do not "burst". What is meant is an aneurysm, a structural defect in a blood vessel.
  • Terminator Salvation includes a character getting impaled through the chest, which requires a heart transplant to fix. This is a huge medical mistake because there is no trauma that would require this. If the heart is not punctured, he does not require a new heart. If the heart is punctured, he would be instantly dead. It's one or the other, and there is nothing in betweennote . The fact that there is no mention of infection, compatibility, rejection, or just the fact that it's a procedure that's hard to accomplish even in a non-collapsed society with functioning hospitals, makes it even worse.
  • In There's Something About Mary, Ted's chiropractor says that Ted has "tender fascial tissue left of L7". There are only 5 lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5), not 7.
  • Vera Drake: The method of abortion which Vera uses was actually invariably lethal — there's no way she'd have used this for twenty years before having a fatality. It's also extremely painful — they would not be getting up after that as if nothing happened. Jennifer Worth of Call the Midwife fame harshly criticized the portrayal as a result.

    Literature 
  • An In-Universe example in Heroes Die by Matt Stover. Hari complains to the guys at The Studio after playtesting their Bloodier and Gorier version of one of his adventures as Caine that the wounds Caine took in their version should have had him immobilized from pain and shortly dead of blood loss.
  • Artemis Fowl has a cure for prolonged alcoholism: a virus that eats alcohol in the body. It works perfectly fine on fairy biology.
  • Felicity Floo Visits the Zoo: The flu spreads from a human girl to all sorts of different species at the zoo (while some flus are zoonotic, it shouldn't go that far) and is described as a cold that "got bigger".
  • In Fifty Shades of Grey doctors don't seem to know the difference between contusions (bruises) and concussions (severe injury to the brain).
  • Penryn and the End of Days:
    • Apparently only one human who can't even suture straight developed and performed the operations done on the low demons. Later it's revealed he can reattach wings, despite there being no mention of his education on angel biology/anatomy.
    • Laylah heads everything vaguely science-related that the angels do, wandering between such specialties as medicine, biological engineering, and pathology.
  • Melanie's Marvelous Measles has Melanie allegedly suffering from the titular disease, but she's still active and her rash doesn't even itch, however, her doctor claims it's the worst case he's seen. In reality, the rash nearly always itches, the disease nearly always makes you sleepy, and in the worst cases, it can kill you.
  • Saving Max: Jonas is posthumously diagnosed with Münchausen Syndrome by proxy. That diagnosis should have gone to his mother Marianne, who severely abused and murdered him.
  • Sneezy Louise: Louise's sneezing is said to be due to a cold, yet itchy eyes were one of the secondary symptoms. In reality, itchy eyes are a pretty good sign that it's not a cold, but rather seasonal allergies.
  • In Survivor Dogs, Lucky teaches the Leashed Dogs that Wound Licking is just as good medical care as going to a vet. Licking a wound might help the pain but it isn't good medical treatment. If anything, it's more likely to make you even sicker.
  • Tales of the Bounty Hunters: It's unlikely at best that emotions simply could be removed by cutting parts of the hypothalamus out (or at that doing so wouldn't cause irreversible damage if not death to the patient). Of course, it's Star Wars, which is hardly "hard" sci fi.
  • The writers of Warrior Cats have gone on record about how the Healing Herbs and other remedies used in the series aren't actually accurate. Readers shouldn't try to self-medicate cats using those methods.
  • In the children's book When You've Gotta Go, Dr. Jones, a surgeon, takes a bathroom break while operating. In real life, surgeons always make sure to go to the bathroom before they operate and they don't go to the bathroom again until afterwards. Also, her patient says, "When you've gotta go, you've gotta go" while under her anaesthesia— talking under anaesthesia is very rare, and most of the time, when it does happen, they don't say relevant things.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A few examples from Columbo:
    • In one episode, the hospital requests that the patient's assistant go to his hotel room to retrieve his usual medications. In reality, no hospital would do this as it would be a monumental waste of time- they'd either likely have the drugs on hand or would be able to get them from a nearby pharmacy.
    • While blowfish poison can be quite fatal, one episode well for the usual trick of the poison killing its victim within 1 minute of ingestion. It's not quite that effective.
  • Fargo: A gunshot Hanzee steals hydrogen peroxide to disinfect his wounds. It's a common misconception that hydrogen peroxide should be used for wound disinfection, probably because it is used for sterilization, but it actually slows down wound healing.
  • Grey's Anatomy. In the second part of the bomb episodes in season two, all Addison Montgomery can do for Miranda Bailey—who is extremely distraught about her husband being in surgery next to the might-explode-at-any-second bomb—is tell her the baby could die if she doesn't push. Offering support and encouragement and taking charge is apparently something only interns do. And in the season three premiere, with the preemie who was left in a trash can at a high school, and the four girls who could have been the mother? All they had to do was give them a regular pee on a stick pregnancy test. The pregnancy hormone, hCG, stays in the blood for up to six weeks after birth.
  • Real-life surgeons are very reluctant to cut half a person's brain out. TV surgeons, on both House and Grey's Anatomy, are more relaxed about performing hemispherectomies.
  • Heroes shows Mohinder checking Hiro's pupillary response while in a dimly-lit room, without any additional light. Aside from that you'd be hard-pressed to even see whether someone's pupils are dilated in a dark room like that, especially if they have very dark brown eyes like Hiro's... of course his pupils are dilated. It's dark.
  • House often features chemotherapeutic drugs as a single "chemo" chemical that you just give a patient to kill any cancer that might be anywhere in the body. In reality, chemo can use alkylating agents, antimetabolites, anthracyclines, plant alkaloids, topoisomerase inhibitors, or any number of other chemicals, and it all depends on the specific type of tumor.
    • Interestingly enough, there are often multiple treatments for the same type of tumor, depending on allergic reactions and bodily tolerance. (read: some are more toxic than others, and God help you if you turn out to be allergic.)
    • In one episode of House, we see a patient ripping out his cochlear implant — cue spurting blood and frantic attempts to save his life. In real life, the external parts of the device (the microphone and speech processor) are held on magnetically, with the actual implant itself safely under the skin. Deaf people and hearing itinerants remove them all the time. It's the equivalent of someone tearing their eyes out by removing their glasses. note 
    • The series has repeatedly shown the OR with dark, dramatic lighting. While there are some cases note  where this would happen, the truth is that OR rooms are brightly lit in the majority of cases.
    • The series has confused CT and MRI machines on more than one occasion, and they show x-rays on film being hung on lightboxes, even though the majority of hospitals have switched to digital x-rays. They've also shown the doctors taking CT scans, drawing blood, and doing the lab work themselves. In reality, these jobs would be done by technologists and technicians, as doctors simply don't have the time or knowledge of how to use the equipment.
    • The series usually offers up a real howler at least once per episode, of the kind you don't even need medical education to notice. Toxoplasmosis? A fungus (in reality, a disease caused by parasitic protozoa). ALS? Affects sensory neurons (there's a reason it's also known as "motor neuron disease"). Unnoticed tumors 30 centimeters in diameter (larger than a basketball). Etc.
    • In one episode, House claims that epilepsy is curable. It is not (it cannot be cured because its causes are not fully understood), but it is treatable (there are several generations of various drugs that, taken constantly, prevent the epileptic fits from occurring). While an ordinary viewer might not know the difference, any MD student not to mention doctor should know this.
    • Apparently, asexuality doesn't exist in healthy people note , is the same thing as absent libidonote  and can be caused by tumors.
  • An episode of Herman's Head played into the myth that sugar is 100% fatal to diabetics. Part of the story involved Herman giving a bear a donut and then finding out later that the bear was diabetic and died a short time later. Note that even if the myth were true, an animal as large as a bear would need a lot more sugar than one donut could contain to affect its glucose level significantly.
  • The Legend Of William Tell; Will goes hypothermic after wandering around a mountain for a while. Well, sort of. (He can speak, walk with help, and is more or less fine after one night under a cloak.)
  • The Orville, episode "All the World Is a Birthday Cake". Doctor Finn and Lieutenant Talla are touring a Regorian hospital and are brought into a surgical suite where a C-section on a premature child is taking place. There's two pieces of artistic license here, one justified, the other not so much.
    • The justified part is that the C-section is completely unnecessary, and yet the Regorians are performing a lot of them. The Regorians are delivering babies weeks ahead of schedule on purpose due to a societal superstition that children born under a specific astrological sign are predisposed to violence.
    • The unjustified part? Finn, the Orville's chief medical officer, should have known better than to enter an active operating room without scrubbing or donning PPE.
  • Sesame Street:
    • In the "You've Got to Be Patient to Be a Patient" skit with the little girl, she was allegedly suffering from the flu. However, she's perfectly active and the main conflict of the song is that she finds resting boring. In actuality, even the mildest flu will cause some lethargy, and being bored is a sign you no longer need to rest.
    • In "Elmo Visits the Doctor", animals who can talk, but are otherwise not anthropomorphised visit the same doctor as Funny Animals, monsters, and humans as opposed to going to the vet.
  • On Stargate Universe, one character donates a kidney to another. The location of the scar on the donor's belly suggests that they accidentally transplanted his spleen instead, as a donated kidney is best extracted from the lower back, not the front.
  • Stargate SG-1 had a minor case with pathology in "The Broca Divide", the episode where SG-1 and -3 accidentally bring back a disease that causes humans to regress to a primitive mental state. Leaving aside whether it's physically possible for a disease to do this, the goof came when Dr. Fraiser referred to the organism causing the disease as a virus that feeds on histamine. This allowed them to cure it with massive doses of allergy meds, starving the disease. Viruses do not feed on anything: they use cells to replicate, plain and simple, so antihistamines would have had absolutely no effect had it actually been a virus. She also refers to it as a "parasitic virus". Viruses are parasitic by definition.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In one episode, as they are preparing to vent a cargo bay into space to extinguish a plasma fire and remove some potentially deadly radioactive materials, Doctor Crusher advises La Forge to "resist the urge to exhale" when the cargo bay's oxygen is depleted. This is a very bad idea: if one is to be subjected to a hard oxygen-less vacuum, the correct measure to take is to expel all of the air from your lungs beforehand. Attempting to hold your breath in an airless vacuum will only cause your lungs to rupture as the air inside them attempts to escape into the vacuum.
    • Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi freely discuss their patients' medical information upon casual request and even in simple conversation. In reality, it's a serious breach of medical ethics to share a patient's private medical information without going through formal channels or getting the patient's permission. In America, it's a crime.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In the first season finale, baby Naomi has a fever, and Janeway tries to make her better... with water. Water is dangerous for a baby under six months to drink, and should only be drunk in small amounts until age one.
  • In an in-Verse example, Dean on Supernatural once explained away his having fired a gun in his girlfriend's garage by claiming he'd seen a possum and knew they carried rabies. Due to their low body temperature, opossums are the least likely backyard North American mammals to harbor the rabies virus, something any doctor who knows about rabies or exterminator who knows possums would be aware of. Justified because Dean was an "exterminator", but of the paranormal variety rather than the vermin variety.
  • Ugly Betty: When Christina is implanted with an embryo, a nearby screen shows cells rapidly dividing. Mitosis, even in an embryo made of stem cells, usually takes hours, and can't be easily seen within the body.
  • Medical dramas or medical scenarios on non-medical shows often have scenes that in Real Life would violate patient confidentiality —loved ones being present when the doctor asks questions or delivers news, etc.
  • Police Procedurals are especially fond of having cops barging into a doctor's office, exam room, or even an operating room to arrest the physician in question, something that would not only violate the patient's privacy but contaminate the area.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Funky Winkerbean, Holly breaks her ankle while baton-twirling at a football game. At the hospital, a nurse asks her, "Do you feel safe at home?" with Holly's husband Funky in the room, standing right next to the nurse. This is not considered an effective method of screening for domestic violence.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Want to make a doctor, a toxicologist, and a pharmacist howl in laughter together? Show them the toxins and disease table in the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Old World of Darkness game line. It contains such madness as:
    • Methanol is a relatively benign poison, and less dangerous than tear gas (Real world: untreated methanol poisoning will blind you and/or kill you, and even treated it just might. Methanol poisoning is a medical emergency. Tear gas is in the vast, vast majority of cases highly irritating, but not debilitating, and after some exposures, you can have a tolerance to it.)
    • You resolve whether or not you get cancer with a roll that takes place in a single turn (3 sec)
    • The difficulty of catching a disease and the difficulty of fighting it off are the same, so a lethal disease is always easy to catch, while highly transmissible, not-too-painful diseases don't exist (This is the exact opposite of Real Life trends; the Red Queen Theory states diseases that are "too lethal" actually will be selected against because they will destroy their hosts, while mild diseases that leave their hosts mostly intact will be selected for and have more chances to become more communicable)
    • Fouled water is a thing. Don't ask what that is, how it's fouled, or with what it's fouled.
    • Ebola is apparently airborne since it must be avoided with methods similar to avoiding a cloud of poison gas (Ebola is spread by body fluids and is actually not easy to get; it's just incredibly lethal if you do get it)
    • One Dose Fits All is absolutely in effect.
    • It is just as easy to catch HIV as it is leprosy
    • No (non-magical) system describes how to cure these diseases, nor what might be possible with mundane medicine that should be available to the majority of characters in the World of Darkness.
    • The game explicitly states that there is no way to do anything but treat the effects of a toxin when several on the list have literal exact antidotes.
    • Somehow, in the middle of an epidemic of deaths from synthetic marijuana in the United States and virtually no cases of death attributed to old-fashioned marijuana, the chart collapses both into just THC.

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham City, IV bloodlines are shown with white gaps (presumably air) between red pockets of blood. This is very bad: air in a blood vessel can cause a potentially fatal embolism.
  • The homeopathic doctor and the witch doctor in BitLife. Say you got something serious, like PTSD, skin cancer, dementia, or heart disease. You go to the regular doctor, and most of the time you won’t be cured. So you head to the homeopathic doctor. This typically doesn’t do anything unless you’re really lucky. However, the witch doctor should definitely be used as a last resort. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes you get cured, but sometimes you will die. Helpful hint: don’t swallow things like hemlock, cobra venom, or green bubbling liquids in real life.
  • Cold and Flu Invasion:
    • First off, the title: a large number of people with a disease is meant to be referred to as an "outbreak" or "epidemic", not an "invasion".
    • None of the characters seem sick enough to have the flu.
    • When the player character gets sick, red bubbles fly above his head.
  • Figment:
    • Justified. In his song, the Plague erroneously lists autism as one of the diseases he plans to give to Dusty. Autism is a mental disorder, not a disease, and it certainly can't be spread between people like diseases can. The developers clarified in a comment on their YouTube channel that this line was intentionally incorrect because the Plague is all about spreading medical fears, even if they are totally illogical.
    • The Plague is killed by having a bucket of water dumped on him. While a nightmare representing the fear of disease may not follow the exact rules of an actual germ, you can't kill germs with just water unless it's really hot, and water sitting in a bucket is not nearly hot enough (unless it's very hot in the mind world. But if it was, the heat in the air probably would have killed him before the water did.)
  • Hitman (2016): The final target of Season One is a man who suffers from Situs Inversus, a birth defect where some or most of a person's internal organs are mirror-flipped (IE: the heart is on the right), which makes him prone to heart problems. This is true to real life. However, this man needs a heart transplant that requires a special mirrored donor heart to fix the aforementioned heart problems or else he'll die; this isn't true to real life, as a person with Situs Inversus can receive a regular left-handed heart transplant, albeit it requires a far more complex surgery.
  • In Punch Club, acupuncture is somehow capable of instantly healing concussions and broken limbs.
  • In The Sims series, the Medicine career track has Sims becoming a nurse before becoming a doctor. In real life, those are completely separate careers.
  • In Surgeon Simulator 2013, some minor liberties have been taken regarding human physiology, such as being able to survive without otherwise vital organs. Like a brain.
    • Also alluded to with some achievements: for example, "I'm sure he'll live" requires finishing surgery when the patient has a very small amount of blood left.
    • An average human male can lose up to 40% of his blood before his body can no longer keep up with the loss and he's on his way to a better world (unless some immediate medical help is applied), and even at this point his body becomes rather pale (which isn't shown in the actual game). This means that once your patient's blood level goes below 3360ml, "I'm sure he'll live" becomes a rather Blatant Lie. Not that it's saying much, considering Nigel's methods of performing the surgeries...
  • Played for Laughs in Thy Dungeonman 2. Percy the rat infects Thy Dungeonman with bubonic plague, and it's not portrayed particularly realistically. Thy Dungeonman doesn't get any symptoms before he suffers Critical Existence Failure 27 turns after infection. But don't worry; you can stave it off by eating moldy bread and cure it by getting it "sawed off".
  • Trauma Center operations are completed within a few minutes each; the time limit for most operations is 5 minutes, and 10 minutes for Final Boss-type illnesses. In real life, a patient is highly, highly unlikely to be in and out of the O.R. in recovering condition in just 10 minutes. After all, this is a game, not medical school. It's quite possible that in-universe, the procedures take much longer than the 5-10 minutes that serve as an out-of-universe mechanism in favor of the player.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Katawa Shoujo, the actual medical terms are pretty accurate, but the nurse does seem pretty blasé about confidentiality, discussing Hisao's private medical matters right in front of other people. Hisao even lampshades it.

    Web Animation 
  • TheOdd1sOut: In "A Book I Made as a Kid", the doctor diagnoses the young James with kidney failure by putting his hand on James's face and confirming that it hurts.

    Webcomics 
  • Da-Jeong from The Friendly Winter is a 19-year-old who looks 7 at most. This is explained by hypothyroidism that was found out too late. Hypothyroidism causes many things but it doesn't make people mature slowly.
  • Lackadaisy has several.
    • After receiving a serious head injury, Rocky is strong enough to walk around St. Louis the following morning and clear-headed enough to carry out a bootlegging run with Freckle and Ivy the following night. In real life, Rocky would have been out of commission for much longer than one night.
    • Rocky leaves his stitched-up head injury unbandaged the next day and repeatedly gets it wet in the rain. In real life, both of these would be huge no-nos with a stitched-up laceration, as they would greatly increase the chances of an infection.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: In "Arthur's Chickenpox", the chickenpox causes Arthur to hallucinate, which is not a symptom in real life.
  • The Loud House:
    • Enforced in "One Flu Over the Loud House", which portrays the flu as similar to a zombie virus. This version of the flu causes the whites of the sufferer's eyes to turn green and can spread to cats, dogs, hamsters, and canaries.
    • In "No Such Luck", Lana volunteers to pee on the wound if anyone gets stung by a jellyfish. That's a myth— jellyfish stings should be rinsed with hot water and then treated with vinegar, not pee.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Medicine

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report