Be Wary of TV Medical Advice: Study Reveals It’s Reliable Only Half the Time — February 2015

Be Wary of TV Medical Advice: Study Reveals It’s Reliable Only Half the Time — February 2015


The British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently released a study that examined the quality of recommendations made on two popular medical television talk shows: The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors. The results were alarming: only about half of the time were the recommendations based on actual medical evidence.

On The Dr. Oz Show, medical evidence was available for 46 percent of the recommendations. Put another way, 39 percent of the advice given could not be supported by medical evidence, and 15 percent was actually contradicted by medical literature. The Doctors did a bit better; evidence supported 63 percent of the recommendations. But still, evidence was not found for 24 percent of advice, and 14 percent was contradicted.
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The Dr. Oz Show was consistently ranked in the top five talk shows in America with an average of 2.9 million daily viewers during the 2012-13 season. The Doctors had 2.3 million viewers. While there are many reliable sources of medical information available on television, radio and in printed form, medical professionals have often been skeptical, if not critical, of popular TV talk shows. The BMJ study was the first to systematically examine the content of such shows.

Despite Dr. Mehmet Oz’s credentials (he graduated from Harvard University and received joint medical and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania), he has been criticized for doling out non-scientific advice, such as his proclaiming the “miracle” weight loss benefits of raspberry ketones and green coffee beans. Such claims were not based on medical evidence but rather theories that are still to be tested.

TV Dramas In the Same Boat

TV Medical AdviceMedical TV dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, ER and House also convey medical information that isn’t always accurate. While show writers consult with medical experts to help them accurately represent story lines, they don’t always get it right. For example the character on Grey’s Anatomy who was prematurely declared brain-dead so that her organs could be procured for transplantation. That turn of events may have made for a good dramatic story line, but would not be practiced in a real hospital setting.

Bob Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University offers a good perspective: “You should no more watch a medical drama to get accurate information on how to treat symptoms than watch ‘The Simpson’s’ or ‘Married With Children’ for clues on how to raise a child.”

How to Evaluate Health News

To his credit, Dr. Oz said his mission for his show is “to empower you to take control of your health.” It is difficult to evaluate the often competing health news reported in today’s mass media markets. We often hear short, “breaking news” pieces on studies that run contrary to current health recommendations, which, of course, tend to leave us more confused. How do people interested in “taking control of their health” make sense of what they hear or read?

  • Never trust one source or the results of one study. Read multiple articles written in trustworthy publications. Tabloid magazines and popular TV shows are not reliable. A single study is best understood in the context of other studies on the same topic.
  • How large is the study? Larger studies provide more reliable results. Is there medical evidence to support the information? Did the study follow people over time to report long-term effects?
  • Were animals or humans studied? In order to understand how some behavior/medicine/risk affects humans, it should be studied in humans, not just in rats or mice.
  • Were disease endpoints studied? Sometimes markers for diseases (like narrowing arteries is a marker for heart disease) are studied when there isn’t time to measure end results, but markers do not always develop into the disease and therefore make the presence of markers important, but not definitive.
  • What conflicts of interest might there be between the health news “reporter” and what is being reported?
  • How does this information apply to your unique health circumstances? What works for a person with diabetes might not be recommended for someone with diabetes and Crohn’s Disease.
  • What does your primary care provider (PCP) recommend? The best way to decide whether you should adopt the latest medical recommendations is by discussing all aspects of your health with your PCP, then make a decision that is best for you.

As always, KnovaSolutions is available to help you evaluate health news and make informed decisions. Call 800/355-0885!

The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

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