It should go without saying that incorrect information about migraines - what migraine is, what happens in the brain during a migraine, migraine treatments - isn’t helpful. This is especially true when it comes from someone as visible and influential as Dr. Mehmet Oz. Over the last few years, those of us with migraines have noted inaccuracies on his television talk show and found many more on his web site. Emails to him and his staff about the inaccurate content have gone unanswered.
Back in May (2014), I discussed Dr. Oz and his misinformation in Migraine Information - Should Dr. Oz Go Back to School? In June, Dr. Oz was called before a Senate panel led by Senator Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, to face questions about the promotion of weight loss products on his show. Here’s some video from that panel hearing:2
Now, an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports the findings of a study performed to "determine the quality of health recommendations and claims made on popular medical talk shows,"1 including The Dr. Oz Show. These findings serve to validate the complaints that migraineurs and others have been expressing about Dr. Oz and his show.
Prospective observational study.
- Investigators randomly selected 40 episodes of The Dr Oz Show and 40 episodes of The Doctors from early 2013.
- These shows were selected because they’re the two most popular medical talk shows on television.
- Investigators randomly identified and evaluated all recommendations made on each program.
- A group of experienced evidence reviewers independently searched for, and evaluated as a team, evidence to support 80 randomly selected recommendations from each show.
- "We attempted to contact The Dr. Oz Show to determine if transcripts and/or DVDs were
available, but did not receive a response. Of the 40 randomized episodes, one episode was interrupted by breaking news, so a second one was randomly selected. For The Doctors, three episodes were interrupted by other programming, and two were repeats, thus five additional episodes were randomly selected."1
Study Main Outcomes Measures:
- The percentage of recommendations that are supported by evidence as determined by a team of experienced evidence reviewers.
- Secondary outcomes included:
- topics discussed,
- the number of recommendations made on the shows, and
- the types and details of recommendations that were made.
- A case study or better evidence to support 54% of the 160 recommendations (80 from each show).
- For 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%.
- Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported:
- 33% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show
- and 53% on The Doctors.
- Investigators identified 479 recommendations in the episodes of The Dr. Oz Show that were reviewed, an average of 12 per episode.
- Investigators identified 445 recommendations in the episodes of The Doctors that were reviewed, an average of 11 per episode.
- On average:
- The Dr Oz Show had 12 recommendations per episode, and
- The Doctors had 11 recommendations per episode.
- The most common recommendation category:
- on The Dr Oz Show was dietary advice (39%), and
- on The Doctors was to consult a healthcare provider (18%).
- A specific benefit was described for:
- 43% of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show,
- and 41% of the recommendations made on The Doctors.
- The magnitude of benefit was described for:
- 17% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and
- 11% on The Doctors.
- The Dr. Oz Show recommended consulting a health care professional just 9% of the time.
- The Dr. Oz Show recommended consulting a health care professional just 33% of the time.
- Possible harms of the recommendations made on the shows were disclosed only:
- 9.8% of the time on The Dr. Oz Show and
- 7.6% of the time on The Doctors.
- Potential conflict of interest was disclosed only four times over the 924 recommendations:
- once on The Dr. Oz Show, and
- three times on The Doctors.
"Consumers should be skeptical about any recommendations provided on television medical talk shows, as details are limited and only a third to one half of recommendations are based on believable or somewhat believable evidence. An interesting question is whether we should expect medical talk shows to provide more than entertainment. Future studies may be directed at determining what viewers hope to obtain from watching these shows, and if the airing of these shows results in behavior changes related to specific recommendations. If the shows are perceived as providing medical information or advice, viewers need to realize that the recommendations may not be supported by higher evidence or presented with enough balanced information to adequately inform decision making. Decisions around healthcare issues are often challenging and require much more than non-specific recommendations based on little or no evidence from media health professionals. Patients would do well to ask healthcare providers specific questions about the benefits and harms, along with the magnitude of the effect (in absolute numbers), and the costs and inconveniences of any recommendation."1
Summary and Comments:
The BMJ study was both enlightening and validating. It confirms what many people have been saying, that Dr. Oz’s information is not reliable. Evidence supported only 46% of the recommendations made on The Dr. Oz Show and contradicted 15%. No evidence could be found for 39% of the recommendations. Another important issue is that Dr. Oz makes recommendations while seldom advising his audience to consult their health care team (only 9% of the time) or mentioning potential side effects (9.8% of the time). Giving medical advice to people whose medical history he hasn’t reviewed and whom he has never examined smacks of possible medical malpractice to me. The Dr. Oz Show and Dr. Oz’s web site belong in the same category as Wikipedia - unreliable.
1 Koronwyk, Christina; Kolber, Michael R.; McCormack, James; Lam, Vanessa; Overbo, Kate; Cotton, Candra; Finley, Caitlin; Turgeon, Ricky D.; Garrison, Scott; Lindbald, Adrienne J.; Bahn, Hoan Linh; Campbell-Scherer, Denise; Vandermeer, Ben; Allan, Michael G. “Televised medical talk shows what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study.” BMJ 2014;349:g7346.
2 Christensen, Jen; Wilson, Jacque. “Congressional hearing investigates Dr. Oz ‘miracle’ weight loss claims.” CNN.com. June 19, 2014.
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Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation’s Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society. Teri can be found on her website, and blog, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.