Finding accurate information about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other health issues can be a challenge. How do you know what is correct and what isn’t? Who do you trust? For many, the answer is Dr. Oz, the guru of late afternoon TV and host of one of the most highly rated daily television programs. A new study reveals that over less than half of his recommendations are correct.
Challenging Dr. Oz
Questions about the accuracy of the information provided by Dr. Oz have gained momentum in the last few years. In February 2013, an article in The New Yorker delved behind the scenes, looking at the influence of Dr. Mehmet Oz, his background, how he came to prominence, as well as a look at some of his flakier recommendations.
Earlier this year, Dr. Oz testified on Capitol Hill about product fraud in the weight loss industry and was taken to task by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who accused him of being part of the problem. She said “No one is telling you not to use passion, but passion in connection with the words ‘miracle,’ ‘weight loss’ and ‘pill’ is a recipe for disaster in this environment in terms of the people looking for an easy fix and getting sometimes delusional.” You can watch more of that exchange here:
In a new study, researchers watched 40 episodes of The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors, evaluating 80 randomly picked recommendations from each show (160 in total). The results showed that for the “recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%. For recommendations in The Doctors, evidence supported 63%, contradicted 14%, and was not found for 24%.”
Based on my own experience evaluating some of the information provided about RA and other forms of inflammatory arthritis in these shows, I’d expected that a significant amount would be sketchy. However, I was astonished by how much information was outright wrong or based on no evidence. To see that less than half of the recommendations made by Dr. Oz were supported by actual evidence in the literature was astonishing and disturbing.
Medical talkshows seem to have taken over from soap operas. Millions watch them, talk about them, and try the recommendations the hosts and guests make. They make you feel informed and empowered to take control over your health.
It’s important to remember that although the hosts of these medical talkshows may originally have been doctors, they have now transitioned to, in the words of the CNN reporter in the above video, being first and foremost “celebrity TV hosts.” Their job is to get you to tune in so the network gets good numbers in ratings and can therefore charge more in advertising.
These kinds of shows are entertainment first. Sometimes, they present good, solid information in entertaining ways. At other times, they don’t. Using exciting words like “breakthrough,” “cure,” and “miracle” will catch the attention of the audience and get them to stay on the channel throughout the show. Sometimes — and according to this recent study, oftentimes — the information that follows after the commercial breaks is not terribly accurate.
What Can You Do?
The problem with medical talkshows and information in other media, is that as a layperson, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Assessing this type of information and making wise choices when it comes to e.g. alternative versus Western treatments, requires a healthy dose of skepticism. Double — or triple — check the information on reputable websites. How do you find one of those? They will list compliance with the HON code on their sites, such as HealthCentral does at the bottom of each of our pages. Once you’ve checked the information, talk to your doctor.
Keep in mind that health entertainment is in the business of presenting easy solutions to complex conditions. A healthy dose of skepticism will serve you well and be the small voice in the back of your head reminding you that if it were only that easy, your doctor would’ve told you already. And when all else fails, remember what your mother told you: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
At the end of the day, we watch these shows to feel informed, reassured and empowered. As with most things in life, there are no shortcuts. Start with building a foundation of solid information about your condition, find a good, collaborative medical team, and learn how to advocate for yourself. Once you get there, you have everything you need to take control and cope.
Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Published On: December 22, 2014