Are Medical Talk Shows Really Making You Healthier?

There was never a question about Dr. Mehmet Oz’s medical qualifications. A world-renowned Harvard-educated heart surgeon, Oz had been more known as having a prestigious professorial seat at Columbia University’s Department of Surgery before he got attracted by the allure of a more glamorous, less bloodier job on TV. Unfortunately, a few shady televised health recommendations later and he finds himself explaining to a board of angry senators about some of his “unscientific” medical advice.

Over the past few months, The Dr. Oz Show has been on the receiving end of endless criticisms from both consumer watchdogs and fellow experts, who are questioning some of the medical practices Dr. Oz is pandering on his show. Last July, the celebrity doc was scolded by senators for allegedly purveying questionable diet practices. However, despite receiving quite a scientific beating from politicians and doctors alike, viewers continue to support the show and similar others that readily hand out health advice on television.

This got a few researchers wondering about the actual efficacy of watching medical television shows. Is health TV actually making people feel better? Researchers from the University of Alberta became one of the first to delve into studying the actual effects of shows like Dr. Oz and The Doctors on the medically-uninformed viewer.

According to Science Daily, scientists examined the medical recommendations issued on the show and analyzed their scientific worth. The researchers used two of the most popular medical talk shows — Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors — and recorded each episode from January 2013 to April 2013. From all the recorded episodes, the scientists randomly drew 40 episodes from each show and had two associates watch and record all the recommendations, advice, and tips handed out by the hosts or the guests. Two researchers were tasked to re-watch the episodes, record the recommendations and answer the following questions:

1. Was there a benefit mentioned?

2. Was it specific?

3. Did the show quantify the magnitude of the benefit?

4. Did they mention costs?

5. Did they mention conflict of interest?

After that, the team of researchers randomly picked the 80 strongest tips on the two shows. The advice was scrutinized for their scientific basis and value. At the end, they found out that only less than half of the advice given on both shows had scientific merit.

Mike Allan, one of the lead researchers, said “[O]ne out of three recommendations from The Dr. Oz Show has believable evidence and about half of the recommendations on The Doctors has believable evidence.”

“Frequently you’re not getting enough information and without doing the research you won’t know if it’s supported by evidence or not,” Allan added.

Christina Korownyk, one of the lead authors, said “[T]he research supporting any of these recommendations is frequently absent, contradictory or of poor quality.”

The researchers concluded that most recommendations given by both shows are limited, and are not ideally suited to aid patients with their health-related decisions. They advise people to be more skeptical when on the receiving end of medical talk show advice.

In the end, it is up to the consumer to accept or reject any medical advice indirectly given on television. A direct consultation with a live doctor is still more preferable than a boobtube MD, regardless of the qualifications they have.

[Image from On Being/Flickr]