How fame has corrupted Dr. Mehmet Oz

The newest media doc on the block is Dr. Mehmet Oz. When he was first seen on Oprah, he seemed engaging and answered some interesting questions in a real and professional way. The audience loved his blue scrubs and boyish clean cut open style.

That was then.

Let’s face it . . . the media spotlight seems to corrupt even the best physicians. Dr. Oz now has his own show and website and production company. That is a pretty big infrastructure to maintain and we know that the public is fickle. So what does he do?

His “Real-Age” website got 27 million people to sign up and take a health quiz. That information was sold to pharmaceutical companies who used the direct emails for marketing. Real-Age also sends the participants a series of emails about conditions they may (or may not) have and drugs they can use to treat it, based on their answers to the on-line health quiz, sponsored by drug companies of course.

He does pieces on “men’s health” and tells men to do male breast checks once a month. No research I have read would support this advice. On his website he says “By the time women reach their 20th birthday, they are at risk for developing osteoporosis”. Really? An upcoming show asks “Can you climax from intercourse?” Gee, is this a health question that needs an answer by an expert?

With his busy production schedule, book tour and daily talk show on Sirius XM radio, can Dr. Oz be spending much time as the director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital? Do you think I could get an appointment with him?

His website shows how I can be on the show. Maybe that is how patients get their questions answered. I know I could get tickets for the show and find out if I am “Getting old too fast” (Yes!) or “Do your parents need to lose weight” (No!).

His website deals with topics like “What his erection is telling you” and “Dangerous health secrets men keep”. Could what his erection is telling you be a dangerous health secret?

Enough Dr. Oz. Please stop embarrassing our profession. See a patient with atrial fibrillation and do something important with your skills.

Dr. Oz, why the goofy business shoes with scrubs?

Tony Brayer is an internal medicine physician who blogs at EverythingHealth.

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  • Desiderio Pina MD MPH

    Hhhmm…men are notoriously worse than women at getting medical help and going to the doctor for their own problems. The leading causes of erectile dysfunction have to do with/are related to cardiac disease, obesity, dyslipidemia and diabetes so maybe “his erection” – size, strength, duration, lack thereof, IS telling her something..and maybe related to an important “health secret” that he IS keeping from her or even himself.

    I agree that someone with Dr Oz’s training (and technically more important, ability to teach and reach people) could be doing more one-on-one care, but with as you might remember from your public health training in med school, you do get an overall bigger bang for your buck in educating more people about smaller things (and some of the things he talks about are just not so small) – so I personally get it.

    Yes, the media corrupts –true. I don’ think that he is doing it from a purely altruistic public health/medical education point of view –true. But we are capitalists in our country, and he IS serving a public health/education role at the same time – a big one by the size of the numbers quoted in your piece alone – so,

    More power to you Dr Oz.

  • Geoff. H.

    These are good valid arguments.

    But from my point of view — I’m not a physician and I’m not in the medical field — what Dr. Oz is doing is very commendable. As a 26-yr-old guy, I actually like that he is an older, well-established, well-known and highly regarded figure in the field. I’d rather have him than some random unknown guy on TV telling me about my health and sex life, and what I need to take note of.

    No one, least of all him, has me at gunpoint to take everything he says and act on it. I’m the one with the control (literally) because if I don’t think what he has to tell me is significant or applicable, I can change the channel.

    I did not take his “Real-Age” quiz because from past experience, I know my data is not safe with anyone else but me. It’s your problem (and those of those 27 million people) if you were so gullible to give away all your data like that.

    As the commenter above said, no one can fault Dr. Oz (or Sanjay Gupta on CNN) for trying to make a few extra bucks in this tough economy through books, endorsements and TV shows and appearances. He was in the right place with the right profession and expertise, at the right time. I’d do it in a heartbeat if I had something substantial to share with the masses.

  • Tracey @ I’m Not Superhuman

    Even worse: The Doctors. They’re a group of four docs (one’s even a plastic surgeon) on ABC during the daytime.

    I was horrified watching an episode where one of the doctors told a group of kids that if they ate too much sugar they’d get diabetes. Yeah, yeah I get the whole obesity and type 2 link. But it was purporting the type 1 myth that sugar causes diabetes.

  • Finn

    The sex topics don’t bother me much because I know why they’re there: to grab an audience. What I hate about both The Doctors and Dr. Oz is their shilling of CAM woo mixed with science-based medicine. How is the general public supposed to differentiate between woo and medicine with evidence that it works when it’s being larded throughout both programs by 5 professionals with medical degrees?

  • jsmith

    Clearly these media docs bring our profession into disrepute, but 1) it’s a free country and ) they can make a lot more money with less work being media docs, and they care more about this than they do about their professional reputations. Think of them as entertainers instead of real docs and then they’re less irksome.

  • Ray

    He certainly can hold an audience, can you imagine how fast people will stop watching you if you play the real doctor and how boring that would be. When on TV and shows, he is basically an actor. He is good at it and makes good money, I suppose that is none of my business, it is a free country.

  • Chrys

    He had the women of “The View pretty confused when he suggested that there was a link to autism and vaccines. You might be able to find a clip of that on the net. In the same breath, he then told them to have the kids vaccinated.

    • Rosie

      I don’t know why this would confuse anyone.

      I don’t know whether there is a consensus among scientists and healthcare professionals on the question of links between autism and vaccinations, but that really is beside the point, here.

      While acknowledging the possibility of a link, the good doctor seems to be saying that the proven benefits of the vaccination program outweigh the risks.

      Nothing confusing there.

  • Anon

    They probably mix in the woo because it’s what got them invited back onto Oprah, and what keeps their show going. If they only presented evidence-based medical advice… well, it’d be about as exciting as a doctor’s visit. Woo is what people want to hear, and I agree that they’ve sold out some by providing it. However, considering that the other “health experts” invited on shows like Oprah are Jenny McCarthy, Suzanne Sommers, and Tom Cruise, having someone dispensing reasonable medical advice on important topics may outweigh the occasional woo. Some parents are more likely to believe that sugar causes Type 1 diabetes than type 2 (which is silly), but with the weight of some kids today, the most important thing is cut back on the sugar. I don’t agree with the means, but it helps me temper my feelings towards what they do.

  • Primary Care Internist

    I remember I once had a patient who proudly proclaimed that she had her valve replacement at CPMC by Dr. Oz, several years ago.

    Now he is one small step above a professional plaintiff’s expert witness, one who sells out the medical profession and his colleagues for a buck. “The Doctors” are even worse, adressing such important topics as “when should you consider breast augmentation” or the latest botox/restylane applications.

    In a time when there is projected to be an extreme shortage of general & cardiac surgeons, and few medical students choosing to pursue such an arduous training path, his skills would be MUCH better utilized in the operating room than on TV. If I were fortunate enough to have his skills (manual, intellectual, and communication) I’d be advocating for better futures for our nation’s physicians, and surgeons in particular. I’m sure he’d be a much more successful advocate than those in the AMA or MSSNY.

  • medcat

    I remember seeing him up at Columbia back in the day…He never was a primary care guy – so I find it ironic that with the primary care shortage he is trying to present info. out of area of expertise…He should stick to the cutting and pasting of his hearts and leave the wailing and weeping and 10 minute appointments to us…Well, hey…It’s a good job on tv if you can get it…Easy, easy money…

  • Birgit

    What I really wish, is that one of these television doctors would spend more time using their bully pulpits to speak out about the root causes of so much disease in our society. I’m talking about the advanced sugar coating of every food substance known to man, continuous snacking, complete lack of physical activity (and jobs where people are specifically paid to sit still for 8-12 hours per day), and general lack of sleep. Medicine today, even the primary care that I deliver, is geared to short appointments and giving someone a pill to try to ameliorate a disease it took them 10-20 years to develop. Meanwhile, younger and younger people are getting fatter and fatter. The amount of obesity related disease that is building in this country will sink our healthcare system, whether or not we get some sort of unified system.

    We doctors aren’t going to ever make much of a dent in this societal problem by individually haranguing patients in the short time we have access to them. (Willpower is all very well and good, but which of us is so pure we never succumb to temptation when it’s plastered in our faces?) It would be really nice if some of these doctors could put effort into this arena, instead of having some zillion dollar work-up of their non-existent cardiac condition, including cardiac CT, while they’re in their 30′s, like Sanjay Gupta did.

  • Marie

    I know Dr. Oz has done good work in the past and it is laudable to try to get the attention of men who notoriously neglect their health. Or anyone neglecting their health for that matter.

    However, he can’t be an expert on everything and if he has a staff of researchers then they are serving him poorly. His show about MS on Oprah was a travesty. He announced definitively that the leading cause of death from MS was suicide. That people suffocate from the ‘MS hug’ (spasms of the intercostal muscles). The first statement is incorrect and the second is absurd. But he said these things, and more, as though they were gospel truth. To millions of people. It was irresponsible as well as incorrect. I can’t even imagine the distress of someone newly diagnosed hearing that misinformation.

    For someone like me, who has been diagnosed for several years, I feel nothing but disdain for Dr. Oz misusing his position of trust. What a disappointment.

    But what does he care? I’m sure he’s crying all the way to the bank.

  • Susan

    Thank you! I have been unable to label what it is about Dr Oz that upsets me so. You labeled it on the button for me. He presents all he says as “Gospel Truth”. I also believe he has a responsibilty to all who trust him. He presents himself as an expert, there is an obligation that goes with that. Well said, thank you

  • Dana

    My problem with Dr. Oz is that he is going way out of his field of expertise and speaking about subjects he should be claiming to be an expert on.

    Case in point? Last week’s show on Oprah about Diabetes. It was one of the worst produced health related shows. Yes, Diabetes is at a critical level in our society – I spent 8 years dedicated to Diabetes and getting patients the right treatments. But, the facts they used were misleading and poorly conveyed.

    As a CT Surgeon, he’s certainly qualified to discuss diabetes and the impact it has on the CV system. But, to do a 3 minute video on a patient who’d recently had 1/2 of one leg and 1/2 of the other foot amputated from diabetes-related complications? They should have opened the piece indicating that she had Type 1 diabetes for many years, and that the majority of people in the US are afflicted with Type 2 which is a completely different etiology (some research does suggest they are one in the same).

    I dn’t mind physicians using popular media to bring attention to health concerns. Just do it accurately, scientifically and responsibly.

  • Young Dr

    Why all the hate against Dr. Oz?

    Most of us doctors sit around all day seeing patients day in an day out. I commend him for having vision and not the myopic view that many physicians have.

    1. He noticed that Americans were left wanting more from their healthcare; so he took an approach which would deliver info about modern medicine in combination with alternative medicine.

    2. He noticed that Americans are aloof when it comes to their health. He is hitting the panic button to alert us all to the damage we do our bodies unknowingly.

    As a young doctor, I see Dr. Oz is a pioneer who is trying to go beyond the banality of daily Dr office work. I hope I can look like him when I’m 50.

  • greg zurbay

    I understand some folks will find fault in anything. We should step back and look at how bad health care was not many years ago. I remember when every doctor believed with utmost certainty that ulcers were caused by stomach acid. Many doctors even 10 years after bacteria were shown to be the cause refused to believe so. Today most researchers will flat out state that our vitamin D intake should be 10 times what was previously recommended. While Dr. Oz may not be perfect, and may act in a direction some criticize as financial, I don’t see an attempt to mislead. All of us have the opportunity to become educated about our health, and as responsible consumers we have the ability to affect the course of health care – which we never had before. Pay attention, SCIENCE is important.

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