“If You Must Be Hospitalized, Television Is Not the Place”

Why do people think there are so many deaths in the ER? Perhaps because that’s how it looks on television. For a research paper called “If You Must Be Hospitalized, Television Is Not the Place,” the Israeli communications scholar Amir Hetsroni analyzed one season’s worth of the U.S. hospital dramas ER, Chicago Hope, and Grey’s Anatomy. It turned out that TV patients were drastically more likely to die in the hospital than real-life patients. They were also more likely to be young, seriously injured white men (preferably good-looking ones). Consider some details.

I ran into an old friend the other day whose actor husband is a regular on the TV show House. We caught up on friends and family, etc., including a few mutual acquaintances who have died since we last spoke. As we parted, I couldn’t help but laugh: at least these unfortunate deaths, I thought, were nowhere near as numerous as those on the kind of TV show her husband appears on. The chart at right is from p. 80 of the illustrated SuperFreakonomics.

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  1. crquack says:

    I would love to know how “alcoholism and drug use” were difined to represent only 0.5% of US hospital admission.

    My experience is that admissions related to drug and alcohol use are considerably more frequent. I have seen data suggesting that almost a third of all hospital admissions in Canada are alcolhol or drug related.

    Oh, and good luck finding a mental condition to be present in only 2.5% of admissions…

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  2. Josh says:

    Very true sir. In all my days visiting the hospital, I have yet to see a single death. It’s quite regular on TV however.


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  3. Mike McGuire says:

    On TV, police officers continually have their guns drawn and are continually being shot at. In real life, the average police officer will never draw his or her gun in their entire career. I can’t address the frequency of their being shot at without their drawing their guns, but somehow I suspect it’s much less often than is portrayed on TV. Statistically, I read once, sanitation workers are the real-world municipal workers most likely to die on the job, despite the real dangers firefighters and police officers sometimes face.

    Following Piaget, it’s probably best if we don’t rely on legal shows to learn about the law, police shows to learn about police work or medical shows to learn about health care, or taking care of ourselves, for that matter.

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  4. Siddharth Surana says:

    If I may say.. you guys have re-kindled my love for economics in the freak way. It’s entertaining as well as informative.

    Look forward to version 3, StraosphericFreakonomics!

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  5. Zach says:


    This is data on deaths, not admissions.

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  6. cjc says:

    You can also analyze NYC cop shows and compare them to real life. I believe that, the total deaths shown on L&O, L&O:SVU, L&O:CI and CSI:NY would be a significant fraction of actual NYC homicides (i.e., 24 shows per season, at least one death per show, 4 shows). And note that these would be the glossy murders, not the grubby ones that happen in Brownsville, etc.

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  7. WB says:

    It looks like we can greatly reduce health care costs and lower the hospital death rate dramatically if we stop trying to make babies and stop actually having babies. Babies appear to be much of the problem.

    Too bad about that survival of the species stuff, it’s costly.

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  8. Shaun says:

    The British Medical Journal published an analysis a while ago showing that living in a British soap opera was riskier than being a bomb disposal expert.


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