Do pharmacists lack sex appeal?

Why are pharmacists being written out of TV medical dramas, and does it impact on public health outcomes?

The absence of pharmacists’ providing medication advice is a major flaw in most television medical dramas, researchers say.

Australian pharmacy academics watched approximately 100 hours of fictional TV series with a medical drama theme (Grey’s Anatomy, Nurse Jackie, House, Doc Martin and Royal Pains) and assessed them for the appropriateness of the advice that was given, the number of safety checks performed and the adherence to standard clinical guidelines.  

Medications were mentioned 424 times in the TV they watched, an average of four times per hour, with medication advice given on 239 of these occasions.

However, the absence of pharmacists in this process was glaring, the authors found. In only 16 of these 239 occasions was a pharmacist involved in giving medication advice – or 7% of the total.

Using the assessment tool, overall, medication advice was deemed to be appropriate 24% of the time, mostly appropriate 34%, partially appropriate 13% and inappropriate 7%.

Doc Martin had the highest mean appropriateness score, whereas House and Grey’s Anatomy had the lowest, they found.

Medication advice given by a pharmacist was more common in Doc Martin and Nurse Jackie as the pharmacist was a regular character in these shows. In contrast, Royal Pains and Grey’s Anatomy do not involve a pharmacist at all.

”The lack of pharmacists’ ‘on-screen’ involvement in health care does not accurately reflect reality,” the authors said.

“Their role is larger and is becoming more significant and expanding into prescribing and administering medicines, such as vaccines.”

They questioned whether the contrast was due to “pharmacists’ lack of sex appeal? or due to the fact that their roles may not be fully understood by the general public, as consumers have displayed contradictory perceptions about the actual role of a pharmacist”.

“Although pharmacist portrayals were not directly measured in the study, it was noted by the investigators that pharmacists tended to be portrayed in a negative light,” they said, backing findings of earlier research.

“For example, the pharmacist in Nurse Jackie was replaced by an automated medication dispenser and becomes a drug dealer”.

The authors said they hoped that viewers weren’t basing medication-related decisions solely on what they have seen on these shows.

“Although the medication advice given was often for the correct indication and the advice somewhat followed clinical guidelines, it frequently omitted adequate safety checks,” they said.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics.

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