Objectives: The objective of this study was to investigate whether medical television dramas portray proper seizure first aid.
Methods: Episodes of the four highest-rated US medical dramas ("Grey's Anatomy," "House M.D.", "Private Practice," and "ER") were screened for the presence of seizures. "Patient" age, sex, semiology, and etiology were recorded. The appropriateness of seizure first aid management was determined by comparison to the Epilepsy Foundation of America (EFA) guidelines.
Results: Among 364 television programs, 65 seizures (in 59 individuals) were identified (30 males; 29 females). Seizures were primary or secondarily generalized tonic-clonic in 53 (81.5%) cases. Other seizure types included complex partial (5, 7.7%), simple partial (1, 1.5%), myoclonic (1, 1.5%), absence (1, 1.5%), and psychogenic (1, 1.5%). On 63 occasions (96.9%), first aid was performed by a health care professional. First aid management was judged appropriate in 21 (32.3%) seizures, inappropriate in 28 (43.1%), and indeterminate in 16 (24.6%). Inappropriate practices included holding the person down (17, 26.2%), trying to stop the involuntary movements (10, 15.4%) and putting something in the person's mouth (11, 16.9%).
Conclusions: The first aid management of seizures performed by actors portraying health care professionals was inappropriate in nearly half of all cases. Inaccurate depiction of seizure first aid management may contribute to misinformation of the general public. The television industry could easily incorporate the simple first aid EFA seizure guidelines as a public service without sacrificing dramatic impact.