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Popular TV Medical Advice Shows Not as Accurate as Your Patients Think

EDMUNTON, ALBERTA – Just once, would you like a good way to respond to patients who question your diagnoses or make their own, citing popular medical television shows?

Here’s your opportunity: A new Canadian study published recently in the British Medical Journal finds that the medical information offered by The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors isn’t all that accurate.

“Recommendations made on medical talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits or the magnitude of the effects of these benefits,” according to the study led by researchers from the University of Alberta. “Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed.”

In fact, the authors caution: “The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

For the study, the researchers randomly selected 40 early 2013 episodes of each of The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors – both of which run Monday through Friday. All recommendations made on each program were identified, and a group of experienced evidence reviewers independently searched for and evaluated evidence to support 80 randomly selected recommendations from each show.

The authors report that the evidence reviewers “could find at least a case study or better evidence to support 54% (95% confidence interval 47% to 62%) of the 160 recommendations, 80 from each show.

In terms of The Dr. Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39% of the recommendations. The television show The Doctors fared a little better: evidence supported recommendations 63% of the time, contradicted them 14% of the time, and was not found for 24%.

“Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 33% of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show and 53% on The Doctors,” study authors point out. On average, The Dr. Oz Show had 12 recommendations per episode with 11 recommendations on The Doctors.

Study results indicate that the most common recommendation category, made 39% of the time on The Dr. Oz Show, was dietary advice. Viewers were advised to consult a healthcare provider 18% of the time on The Doctors.

The study also finds:

  • A specific benefit was described for 43% and 41% of the recommendations made on The Dr. Oz and The Doctors shows respectively.
  • The magnitude of benefit was described for 17% of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show and 11% on The Doctors.
  • Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest accompanied 0.4% of recommendations.

Chances are better than you may think that your patients watch one of the shows. According to a Nielsen’s report cited by the study, The Dr. Oz Show was consistently ranked in the top five talk shows in America with an average of 2.9 million viewers per day, while The Doctors had a high of 2.3 million viewers in its 2012-13 season.