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One of the reasons I created my medical blog for authors, Redwood’s Medical Edge, was to right some of the wrongs in published works—traditional and self-pubbed—that caused me to want to toss the book aside and move onto to something else.
A reader, even one who primarily reads fiction, wants to trust you as an author. Part of building that trust is doing your research to make sure the details are authentic. The more close to real life you write, the more believable your fiction is. Strange, right?
So, as a medical professional of almost twenty years, these are a few author type pitfalls that will signal to me that an author has not done their research and I begin to wonder what other details of the ms they’ve been loose with.
1. Referring to an ECG as an EKG: This is relatively common and you’ll likely be given a pass on this because as medical professionals communicate with one another—we still will say “EKG” but the correct terminology is ECG. An ECG comes from electrocardiogram and is when we attach patches to your chest to look at the electrical activity of your heart.
2. Anatomical Issues: These are the most annoying because they are the easiest to research on your own. I’ve seen in published novels where the spleen is on the right side (it’s on the left), and the clavicle referred to as a scapula (your collar bone versus your shoulder blade.) Easiest way to determine where a certain organ/bone is would be to Google search specifically—“what side is the spleen on?”
3. HIPAA Violations: Which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This is the law that governs patient privacy and is the notification you likely receive (and subsequently throw away) each time you visit a doctor that dictates how your health information is shared. Let’s look at an example—I take care of a neighbor’s child in the ER during a shift. If my husband calls me at work, I can’t say, “Hey, Kim is here with her daughter. She broke her arm.” This is a violation of HIPAA. Now, I can share that information if Kim says I can do so but she has to give permission. Types of HIPAA violations I’ve seen in published novels? A nurse giving patient information to a reporter—this is a huge no-no. All information released to the press is done through the public relations office. This is drilled into every medical professional’s head from the get-go. A medical person giving info to a spouse. And from real life, a local news station that shot an interview where the patient tracking board was in the backdrop. All big no-no’s.
4. Injuries that heal too quickly: Sure, you want conflict and sometimes conflict means someone taking a bullet or being in a car accident or any number of ways you want to injure and maim a character. The problem usually is after the injury. Your hero that took a bullet to the arm is easily shooting with it the next day with subsequent ease. Make sure whatever injury your character suffers, the result of the injury is reflected in the manuscript. If you break your femur, you will not be running the next day.
5. Scope of practice issues: The term scope of practice covers a set of laws that dictate what a licensed medical person can and can’t do. They vary from state to state so if your novel is set in a specific locale—it will behoove you to look at those laws. An example of a scope of practice issue is an EMT performing a C-section. This is clearly outside their scope of practice. Now, can he do it in a fiction novel? Yes—but he also needs to be seen struggling with the decision. He will know it’s outside his scope of practice but does it anyway—this is conflict. He will also be responsible for the consequences that follow. A good example of this was the novel Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
What medical inaccuracies have you seen in published fiction?
Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. She hosts Redwood’s Medical Edge, a blog devoted to helping authors write medically accurate fiction. Her debut novel, Proof, is equal parts medical thriller/police procedural about DNA testing setting a guilty criminal free. Proof has garnered a starred review from Library Journal and has been endorsed by the likes of Dr. Richard Mabry, Lynette Eason, and Mike Dellosso to name a few. You can connect with Jordyn via her website at www.jordynredwood.net.