(tv) doctor’s orders

This week I met a patient who stated that she watches “The Doctors” every day, and that the show is her primary source of health information. I politely tried to steer the conversation back in and evidence-based direction while discreetly scooping my jaw up off the floor. I am familiar with this show and that of my nemesis, Dr. Oz, but I have not watched either in several years; I became tired of spending 44 minutes correcting the hosts for their inaccuracies and my eyes were weary from rolling so hard. But this was the first incident where I encountered an individual with such sincere faith in medical entertainment. I shouldn’t be surprised, as the patient probably represents thousands of others just like her, who believe that the beautiful doctors on the screen have their best interests at heart, above all else.

I don’t blame the patient, or anyone else who shares that belief. These shows are carefully constructed to foster trust and place the hosts as credible and trustworthy experts. The recommendations provided are just the right combination of positive and vague to encourage viewers to act on the advice and keep coming back for more. It’s tv, and that is the point. It doesn’t matter that about half the recommendations made on these programs either are not supported by any evidence, or are actively refuted by the best evidence available. Unfortunately, what is true and what is not on the programs is hard to identify: it took researchers in the study linked to above hours upon hours to research the health claims made in only 40 episodes of each of those series. Dr. Oz produced 194 episodes in 2013 alone. The public cannot possibly sift through the recommendations and come to meaningful conclusions about their health and lifestyle. It is unreasonable for anyone, most importantly the healthcare providers dispensing this advice, to expect this of their viewers.

It goes without saying that anything on tv (or the internet) should be taken with a grain of salt. Medical talk shows are just that, talk shows. If you wouldn’t trust Maury Povich’s relationship advice on dealing with your cheating baby daddy, maybe think twice about following Mehmet Oz’s miracle-food-lose-weight-in-your-sleep diet. I’m not saying that these doctors aren’t qualified or competent in their fields; they appear to board certified and lisenced, apart from which I am not qualified to judge their abilities. But they are not your doctor. A doctor worth listening to should know you personally, and should make specific recommendations based on your own health situation. These shows are mostly good for killing the time between 2-4 pm, and providing fodder for blogs like mine.

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