TV medical drama: how to talk about public health in Italian primetime
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University of Udine, Department of Medicine, University of Udine, Udine, Italy
University of Udine
University of Turin, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Turin, Turin, Italy
University of Udine; Friuli Centrale Healthcare University Trust
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A1630
Background and Objective:
Television is one of the most effective media for conveying important public health messages and promoting prosocial behaviors. In addition, television medical dramas often depict the practice of medicine and thus can influence the knowledge and behavior of a large audience. Our aim was to analyze how public health issues are addressed in the most popular medical dramas.

We selected the two most popular television medical dramas in Italy that aired in prime time between 2012 and 2019 and are also available on DVD or paid platforms. A total of 94 episodes of Greys Anatomy and House, M.D. (49 and 45, respectively) were analyzed in double blind. Each episode was assessed using a checklist that described the health promotion topics covered and the compliance with infection risk prevention for each procedure performed.

At least one public health topic was addressed in 57 (61%) episodes (86 total cases), including: blood and organ donation (33%), drug and alcohol abuse (27% and 17%, respectively), healthy eating (9%), physical activity (9%), sexually transmitted diseases (6%), immunizations (3%), screening programs (3%) and smoking (1%). No reference was made to sleep education and promotion of sleep hygiene. Proper hand hygiene was depicted in 10% of the potential 239 procedures. The use of disposable gloves and gowns (PPE=personal protective equipment) was appropriate in 92% and 74%, respectively, of the 191 procedures in which their use was required by the guidelines.

In the episodes analyzed, healthy lifestyles (i.e., smoking abstinence) or vaccination were addressed only superficially, and the use of PPE was also partially presented before the pandemic. Given their large audience size, medical dramas should better used to communicate important public health issues to the general public.

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