Health

Worth Their Salt or Take ‘Em with a Grain?

TV docs shell out advice daily to millions — but viewer, beware

They take the stage each day, offering insights and advice. They share patients’ stories and voice their concerns.

But how concerned are today’s TV docs, really, about their viewers’ health — and how seriously should the millions tuning in every day take the medical advice they offer?

Though he has a PhD and not an MD, Dr. Phil McGraw is reportedly gearing up for a media tour “focused on medicine,” according to a report in nymag.com. He will be talking about diabetes, given his own diagnosis more than two decades ago and his experiences since. Specifically, he will be speaking about Bydureon, the diabetes drug for which he is a paid spokesperson, the magazine reports.

Vox’s Julia Belluz writes, “Be aware: This isn’t an objective and noble effort to raise awareness or destigmatize a condition that millions of Americans face. Instead, Dr. Phil has been hired by the drug maker AstraZeneca as a paid spokesperson — and this presents all sorts of thorny conflict-of-interest problems.”

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Friends and family of Big Ang, the “Mob Wives” star who passed away in February, are reportedly mad that Dr. Mehmet Oz “wasn’t there” for Ang when she came to him with her stage IV cancer diagnosis. Her fans are livid. They’ve posted comments on social media about how Dr. Oz had her on his show for ratings rather than out of sincerity.

Looking fit in their scrubs and tennis shoes, many television docs appear ready to diagnose whatever might ail us and advise us how to fix it. It is their job, at the very least, to appear sincere — if they don’t come by it naturally, they try to be as informative as they are entertaining.

Other physicians, however, offer this important reminder: It is entertainment.

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“Many of these doctors are influenced by political pressures and lobbying groups, and the information is not unbiased,” said Dr. Alexis Conason, a clinical psychologist and researcher in New York City.

Dr. Conason is one of many physicians who will quickly explain she is far from a fan of these shows. “We should watch these programs as entertainment, not health advice,” she told LifeZette.

Studies from the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia looked at the validity of TV doctor shows and the specific claims of countless episodes. Researchers found that with Dr. Oz specifically, medical research didn’t back up — or contradicted — more than half of his recommendations.

While studies continue to look at the validity of the medical advice both given and implied, researchers advise skepticism about any recommendations that are made on medical talk shows. Others, meanwhile, don’t feel the warnings go far enough.

In 2013, Benjamin Mazer, a medical student at the University of Rochester, filed suit over information that Dr. Mehmet Oz and “The Dr. Oz  Show” imparted. Mazer asked the Medical Society of the State of New York and the American Medical Association to regulate the advice and suggestions made by doctors on TV, including but not limited to Dr. Oz.

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Citing feedback from some of his own patients and specific “miracle” weight loss regimens advocated by Dr. Oz on his show, Mazer says on his personal blog and website, “Dr. Oz is the most influential doctor in America. We can do better.” He adds, “Health care professionals know that bogus medical information presented by the mainstream media is harming patients.”

Some of his own colleagues made a serious appeal in 2015 for Dr. Oz to be removed from his faculty position at Columbia University, due to frustrations over what they called “unsubstantiated medicine.” He remains listed as director of Columbia’s Integrative Medicine Center.

The number of television doctors goes far beyond one or two individuals, of course. There are many physicians practicing medicine on television, on the Internet, on the radio and across a wide variety of media right now.

“No one should take any claim at face value,” Dr. Ralph Mayer, a southern California-based physician, told LifeZette. Use the claims instead, he advised, to do your own research or get a second opinion.

“People need to recognize that [the programs’ producers] ultimately have to promote their show by offering tantalizing headlines and by spinning hot health topics that may or may not have any real value,” said Kristie LeBeau, a registered nurse in Redlands, California. “TV doctors should never replace your personal physician or other health care providers.”

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