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Coma Outcomes on Soap Operas Too Good to Be True

Study shows that the odds of full recovery from a fictional coma are an impressive 89%

TUESDAY, Dec. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Coma patients in soap operas experience significantly rosier outcomes than their real-life counterparts, according to a study published in the Dec. 24 issue of the British Medical Journal.

David Casarett, M.D., of the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion in Philadelphia, and colleagues studied the outcomes of 64 comatose soap-opera characters.

The researchers found that 57 characters (89%) fully recovered and that 49 of them (86%) had no evidence of limited function, cognitive deficit or residual disability on the day they regained consciousness. Five characters (8%) died and two (3%) remained in a vegetative state. The researchers' meta-analysis showed that soap-opera mortality for non-traumatic and traumatic coma was significantly lower compared to real life (4% versus 53%, and 6% versus 67%, respectively), and that the odds of returning to normal function were significantly higher (91% versus 1%, and 89% versus 7%, respectively).

"Soap operas are not designed with the goal of educating the public about the realities of health and illness or even about the realities of interpersonal relationships, but they may contribute to public misperceptions in these areas," the authors conclude. "In the interests of public health, soap operas and other forms of mass media should seek to balance stories of improbable survival and recovery with compelling and compassionate stories of characters who die with comfort and dignity."

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