TV Doctors Are Entertainers, Not Medical Professionals

There could be many reasons why an accomplished cardiac surgeon like Dr. Mehmet Oz chooses to dish out the foolishly dangerous bunk he does on his TV show – money; ego; a free lifetime supply of green coffee bean extract…

We’re longtime critics of Oz using his medical credentials to peddle snake oil, a practice the U.S. Senate also found repugnant a few months ago, (see our blog, “Senate Smacks Down Dr. Oz for Diet Supplment nonsense.”) and now researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada have proved what a phony he is.

A study titled “Televised medical talk shows – health education or entertainment?” published in the journal BMJ, examined scores of episodes of “The Dr. Oz Show” and another popular daytime medical yakker, “The Doctors.” Both are seen by millions of viewers every day, as “charismatic hosts discuss new medical research and therapies while offering viewers their own recommendations for better health,” the researchers noted in a news release. “For show producers it’s a winning ratings formula, but for viewers eager for a healthier life, the results aren’t so clear cut.”

They’re being modest. It’s very clear – much of what these photogenic doctors tout is baloney. As Dr. Christina Korownyk, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, commented, “The research supporting any of these recommendations is frequently absent, contradictory or of poor quality.”

The researchers were inspired to examine the “science” behind TV doctor claims after hearing concerns from several physicians whose patients took to heart the advice given on the shows.

“It got us reflecting,” Korownyk said, “what’s being said there? What kinds of things are being recommended and what kind of information is being provided?”

The team analyzed 40 episodes of “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Doctors.” They focused on the information provided in the recommendations and answering the questions: Was there a benefit mentioned? Was it specific? Did the show quantify the magnitude of the benefit? Did they mention costs? Did they mention conflict of interest?

Researchers randomly selected 80 of the strongest recommendations from each show for further study, and concluded that only 1 in 3 recommendations from “The Dr. Oz Show” had believable evidence and only about half of those on “The Doctors” did.

Frequently, they concluded, viewers don’t get enough information to know if the hosts’ claims are supported by evidence.

Specific findings included:

  • most common topics discussed – dietary advice (“Oz,” 43.2% of the time; “Doctors,” 16.8% of the time)
  • most common recommendations – dietary advice (“Oz,” 39.2% of the time; consult a health-care professional, “Doctors,” 17.8% of the time)
  • frequency of mentioning benefits along with recommendation – “Oz,” 42.6% of the time; “Doctors,” 41.3% of the time
  • how often magnitude of the benefit was mentioned with the recommendation – “Oz,” 16.5% of the time; “Doctors,” 11% of the time
  • how often possible harms were mentioned – “Oz,” 9.8% of the time; “Doctors,” 7.6% of the time
  • how often costs were mentioned – “Oz,” 12.5% of the time; “Doctors,” 3.1% of the time

The study also showed that out of 924 total recommendations examined, in only four instances were potential conflict of interest mentioned.

As we’ve discussed, celebrities aren’t to be trusted when it comes to advising you about health-care choices. Televised medical talk shows might be entertaining, but they’re not science.

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