NEW WEEK NEW FACE – GUEST POST by JORDYN REDWOOD
Five Medical Pitfalls Authors Fall Into
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 indie—that caused me to want to toss the book aside and move on 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?
As a medical professional of almost twenty-five years, these are a few author pitfalls that will signal to me that an author has not done their research and I begin to wonder what other details of their manuscript they’ve been loose with.
- 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.
- Anatomical Issues: These can be annoying because they are the easiest to research on your own. I’ve seen passages 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?” It should pop up pretty readily.
- HIPAA Violations: HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This is the law that governs patient privacy and is the information you receive each time you seek medical care that dictates how your health information is shared. The easiest way to understand patient privacy is that only people who are in direct care of the patient should look at that patient’s information.
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, Mindy is here with her daughter. She broke her leg.” This is a violation of HIPAA. Now, I can share that information if Mindy says I can do so but she has to give me permission. Other 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. Another example from real life was when a local news station shot an interview with a nurse manager where the patient tracking board was in the backdrop. All big no-no’s.
- Injuries that heal too quickly: Sure, you want conflict and sometimes conflict means a character taking a bullet or being in a car accident. Often times the problem in fiction comes after the injury and what your character will be reasonably able to do. These need to match. For instance, if your hero takes a bullet to the arm and it shatters the bone, then that arm is out of commission for a good six to eight weeks. It cannot be wielding a gun the next day and firing off shots with remarkable accuracy. Make sure whatever injury your character suffers, the physical effects of the injury is reflected in the manuscript. If your character breaks a femur then they will not be running the next day.
- 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 where a midwife performed a C-section.
Remember, medical characters in fiction can do bad things. Violating HIPAA laws and operating outside their scope of practice makes for great conflict and novels should have loads of conflict. However, the reader, in order to trust you and your research, needs to know that you know the character has done a bad thing and the character should suffer consequences for it. For a nurse, this could be something a mild as a verbal warning to as serious as losing a nursing license.
What medical inaccuracies have you seen in published fiction?
Jordyn Redwood is a nurse by day, novelist by night. She has specialized in critical care and emergency nursing for nearly two decades. As a self professed medical nerd, she reads medical textbooks for fun. This led to the creation of Redwood’s Medical Edge– a blog devoted to helping authors write medically accurate fiction. Jordyn loves to weave medical mystery into her story lines and see how her characters navigate through the chaos she creates.
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