John M. Talmadge, M.D.

A Blog Covering Many Topics

Bogus: Dr. Oz

Medical students and residents frustrated with bogus advice from doctors on TV have, for more than a year, been asking the American Medical Association to clamp down and "defend the integrity of the profession."

This is an issue I have addressed before on this blog where my focus has been on quackery associated with the use of expensive neuroimaging or "brain scans" claiming to diagnose a variety of psychiatric problems like attention deficit disorder, addictions, and mood problems. Although neuroimaging is very promising, getting a scan does not change diagnosis or treatment for these kinds of disorders. One of the egregious offenders is Dr. Daniel Amen, perhaps the best known psychiatrist in America, whose self-produced PBS specials air widely on public television and promote his unproven claims about scans. Although Amen claims that his theories are based on thousands of cases, experts in the field have widely condemned his misrepresentation of the facts.

The AMA is finally taking a stand on quack doctors who spread pseudoscience in the media.

The AMA will look at creating ethical guidelines for physicians in the media, write a report on how doctors may be disciplined for violating medical ethics through their press involvement, and release a public statement denouncing the dissemination of dubious medical information through the radio, TV, newspapers, or websites.The move came out of the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago this week, where medical students and residents pushed the AMA after noticing that the organization was mostly silent during the recent public debates about the ethics of Dr. Oz sharing unfounded medical advice on his exceptionally popular TV show.

"Dr. Oz has something like 4 million viewers a day," student representatives said. "The average physician doesn't see a million patients in their lifetime. That's why organized medicine should be taking action."

Last summer, Oz was called before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, where the senator in charge, Claire McCaskill (D-MO), asked him to explain his use of "flowery" language to champion weight loss fixes that don't actually work and then admonished him for endorsing a rainbow of supplements as potential "belly blasters"and "mega metabolism boosters." As McCaskill put it, "The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles.'"

In December, a British Medical Journal study examined the health claims showcased on 40 randomly selected episodes of the two most popular internationally syndicated health talk shows — The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors — and found that about half of the recommendations either had no evidence behind them or actually contradicted the best available science.

In January, investigations into The Dr. Oz Show by the Federal Trade Commission showed that at least one of Oz's miracle-touting guests used the program as a platform to deceive audiences and sell products.

In April, a high-profile group of physicians and academics questioned Oz's faculty position at Columbia University and wrote in a letter to the medical school dean: "Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both." The same month, Oz responded to his critics by accusing them of having conflicts of interest and defending his civil liberties. "I know I have irritated some potential allies," he wrote in Time magazine. "No matter our disagreements, freedom of speech is the most fundamental right we have as Americans. We will not be silenced."

What Dr. Oz does not understand is that questions about ethics are not questions about "free speech." By his logic, a doctor can say virtually anything, make any claim, asserting that he or she has the right to freedom of speech. This is a terrible kind of logic, and it makes no sense at all.

Then again, many claims made by Dr. Oz make no sense, either.