Why patients should be careful of celebrity medical advice

More celebrities are giving medical advice these days.

Rahul Parikh explores the phenomenon in a recent piece from Slate, citing Lance Armstrong, Suzanne Somers, and Jenny McCarthy, among others.

But does their celebrity make them an authority in a given medical issue? Unfortunately, too many people think so, as following celebrity medical advice can be dangerous

Their messages have led some doctors and patients to make inappropriate health decisions, at times increasing risks for patients and driving up health care costs. Their advocacy, while informative and inspiring, often oversimplifies complex medical issues. Finally, the first-class advantages most celebrities enjoy can create false hope for their economy-class public.

Regarding that last point, Christopher Reeve’s treatment for his paralysis is cited, costing upwards of half a million dollars a year; an amount that most Americans cannot afford.

Celebrity medical advice isn’t going to go away. More are realizing their influence, and outlets like The Huffington Post are all to willing to give them prominent platforms.

As Dr. Parikh concludes, it’s best to be influenced by celebrities who work with medical professionals, like Katie Couric for instance, rather than Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy-types, who treat doctors with outright contempt.

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  • http://scienceblogs.com/terrasig Abel Pharmboy

    Doc, thanks for posting this concise discussion. I’m glad to see larger media outlets recognizing this damaging phenomenon of medical misinformation by celebrities. Liz Szabo at USAToday ran a similar piece last week.

    btw, I loved your quote in Lola Butcher’s continuing series in the new issue of Oncology Times about oncologists needing to dial into social media:

    The physician with one of the largest Twitter presences is Kevin Pho, MD, a primary care physician and prolific blogger in Nashua, NH, with approximately 17,200 followers. His opinions are frequently quoted in The Wall Street Journal and other national media outlets.

    Earlier this year, Dr. Pho (@KevinMD) spoke directly to his professional colleagues in a blog post titled “Do Physicians Have a Moral Obligation to Engage in Social Media?”

    “Some physicians may be hesitant to participate in social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter,” he wrote. “Well, get over it.”

  • http://scienceblogs.com/terrasig Abel Pharmboy

    Sorry, forgot to embed the URL for the Oncology Times article

  • http://roguemedic.blogspot.com/ Rogue Medic

    The idea that being a celebrity, having some success in one area of one’s life, has anything to do with having the intelligence to understand an unrelated field, is crazy. However, this is a common mistake. We assume that if they are good at one thing, they will be good at other things.

    Jenny McCarthy is good at looking good without her clothes on. This is something that has required the assistance of plastic surgeons, also known as doctors. She did not perform her own surgery. She does not provide her own Botox injections. She has these provided by real doctors.

    When it comes to the life of her son, and the lives of other children, all of a sudden, she claims to know more than the doctors. It is true that she is limited to phrases that fit on a bumper sticker, but that does not stop her from talking. That does not stop the media from providing a platform for her misinformation.

    People like simple solutions. Where better to get simple solutions, than from people who will not complicate things with actual knowledge or understanding?

  • http://blog.insweb.com Robert

    Celebrities think they know everything. Even worse, many of us actually BELIEVE that celebrities know everything! I’ll stick with my family doctor for medical advice….

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