Why Am I Hearing About This? (Part II)

by | Jul 18, 2014 | Humor, Reflection

Okay, I thought I was done with the diatribe about profiteering in medicine (or profiteering in anything) and how this determines what kind of things you hear on the news.

I was wrong. Now I have heard about a third-year medical student aiming to bring down one of the icons of medical media, Dr. Oz.

I must confess, I like Oz. He empowers people to think outside the box and to be responsible for their own health. I find myself agreeing with most of what he says.  Now this young whipper-snapper wants to have him sanctioned by the New York State Medical Board.  Or at least he and others want what amounts to a potential sanctioning. He has authored a new state medical regulation governing the “responsibility of medical information” propagated by a licensed professional in the media.

It seems that this young fellow, while on one of his primary care rotations, was presented with a case of a patient who was refusing to take her diabetes medications – to the detriment of her health.  She wanted to go with a “miracle-herb” or some other potion touted by the good doctor Oz. I say “good doctor” because he is a good one, an experienced and frequently-published thoracic surgeon. That doesn’t make him an expert on most of the things he talks about, but he has an active research staff that generally comes up with good material. He presents it well and thoughtfully.

This patient, says the student, suffered harm. Furthermore the conscientious care of her doctor and other doctors around the country is being continually undermined by Dr. Oz. Due to the global reach of his media messages, they believe he is potentially doing irreparable harm to thousands, nay, millions of people by talking favorably about unproven treatments.

I am dazzled by the wisdom of this young man. This medical student thinks doctors who promote things publicly should be “restrained” from doing so by the medical establishment. Or at least they should be limited only to talking positively about herbs, cures, remedies, techniques, that have undergone scientific testing and scrutiny. We are now beyond – or so the “professionals” pontificate – the age of superstition, snake oil, and anecdotal remedies. We should only practice “evidence-based medicine.” (see definition below).

Dr. Oz has used (or come close to using) the term “miracle cure” on his show. In fact he has stated that he “believes in magic”… >gasp< , a term he uses for the “placebo-effect”, where faith in the administered treatment or in the doctor himself  – without any actual drug or real medicine being given  – results in healing or medical benefit. Dr. Oz should be muzzled, some say, since patients (especially the foolish and hard-headed ones) could be harmed by mistaking his promising statements for actual and specific medical advice. It is the responsibility of the benevolent ruling medical class to protect the ignorant and foolhardy among us.

And is Oz getting a profit from those herbs and out-side-the-box treatments he discusses? Although there is no evidence that he receives promotional fees, Dr. Oz can and does influence the sales of a “miracle herb” by one positive mention on his show and he certainly reaps the perks of a medical media celebrity, . Moreover, he has been forced recently to backpedal somewhat from glowing remarks he has given to certain natural supplements for weight loss and the like. He has been chastized in Congressional hearings for, shall we say, “lack of prudence” in his glowing reviews. (Eager herbal sellers often lift Oz video clips and post them as endorsements of their wares.)

With the above in mind, I offer the following advice:

When the “establishment” reprimands a purveyor of alternative therapies for his lack of scientific data, remember that double blind, placebo-controlled, university-sponsored data is limited, and, frankly, sometimes tainted (however unintentionally) by the pharmaceutical companies that pay for the studies.  “Evidence-based” is code for: unless the “evidence” comes from the closed community of the “Academy” (Med School/Big Pharma/FDA), it’s not valid. And don’t think that Big Pharma isn’t trying to sell you something.

There are other sources of valid evidence besides a “peer-reviewed” paper. Having said that, we should expect every health practitioner to be ready to justify the truth of what they say and the validity of what they recommend and to reveal the source of their ideas.

So, when you evaluate the truth of any claim you hear for medical products, treatments, and the like, ignore the advice of Oz – not Dr. Oz… the other one, “The Great and Powerful”… pay particular attention to and DO NOT IGNORE THE MAN (or corporation) BEHIND THE CURTAIN. (He’s the one trying to sell you something.) – ‘nuf said.