Are the Medical Problems on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Real?

Shonda Rhimes is not a medical expert. She doesn’t have to be. A storyteller at heart, the TV producer created a medical drama that has lasted 15 seasons not just because of its dramatic medical cases, but because of a team of fellow producers and writers who know how to keep things interesting.

But you really can’t have a good medical show without believable medicine. So Rhimes has made sure she’s working on the show with people who know what they’re talking about — or know who to talk to when they don’t.

Is Grey’s Anatomy medically accurate? It might be closer to reality than you’d expect.

Who comes up with the medical cases on Grey’s Anatomy?

Meredith and Riggs in a patient's room working together on Grey's Anatomy

Meredith and Riggs working together on Grey’s Anatomy | ABC

Shonda Rhimes and her team of executive producers work hard to make sure the medicine portrayed on the show is as accurate as a primetime medical drama can be.

One way they do this is by assembling the right team of people for the job. At least two of the show’s executive producers, Fred Einesman and Zoanne Clack, are also trained doctors in real life. Their backgrounds in medicine help give them some context when coming up with ideas for the show.

But there are many types of medicine, and doctors on the show specialize in different branches within the same field. Sometimes producers have to contact other real-world medical experts to make sure they get all the facts right while also telling a believable (yet dramatic) story.

Is Grey’s Anatomy realistic?

The sometimes extreme medical situations on the show could technically happen. But they likely wouldn’t all happen within the same hospital over even a 15-year timespan.

Einesman says the show features many medical cases that are extremely rare, and that when he or his team contacts an expert to ask about it, they’re often quick to remind him that the story he wants to tell on the show might never happen in real life.

But there’s often a one-in-a-million chance it could. “And you can literally hear the switch in their head [when you say that],” he said on an episode of Post-Op, a behind-the-scenes web series about the show. “And by the end of the conversation, they are so into the story.”

The show is still a drama, of course. Elements are exaggerated, truths are ever-so-slightly stretched. But the team really tries to make it work. Not that you should obtain all your medical knowledge from a TV show. Go see a real doctor. Please.

Grey’s Anatomy still isn’t real medicine

Early in 2018, a study was published warning the general public that watching the show could create “false expectations” about what it’s really like to receive medical care.

In particular, the extreme medical cases rushed through the fictional hospital’s emergency department, for example, don’t happen often in the real world.

It might seem like sick patients are rushed from the ER to another part of the hospital almost immediately, but that’s usually not how it goes. Usually when you show up to the ER with a problem, you’re going to be sitting there waiting for a long time before being seen.

The show isn’t necessarily factually inaccurate. Many writers, consultants, and producers working on medical dramas have medical backgrounds and don’t want to promote false medical claims. But you shouldn’t treat it as an educational tool. It’s still a show produced primarily for entertainment. Treat it as such. Enjoy it for what it is, but don’t expect it to reflect how your experience in a hospital is going to go.