"I Heard It on TV": Assessing the Quality of TV Medical Show Recommendations


How valid is the information and advice dispensed by Dr. Oz and other TV doctors?

Every healthcare provider deals with patients who, after hearing some kind of health advice presented by a health expert on television, made a lifestyle change, started a supplement, or altered prescribed therapies. Researchers at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Clinic Health Academy in Canada decided to look at medical talk shows and determine the validity of recommendations. Their findings, published in the December issue of BMJ, quickly became one of the most accessed articles online in 2014.

Using a prospective observational study design, they viewed 40 episodes of 2 internationally syndicated medical television talk shows that air daily (The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors). They watched episodes that aired in 2013. The researchers noted all recommendations made by the alleged experts on each program—each show averaged 11 to 12 recommendations. They randomly selected 80 recommendations from each show, and then an experienced evidence review team searched for evidence to support the recommendations.

More than half of the 160 recommendations were supported by evidence of at least a case study or better level.

When the reviewers looked at the shows individually, they found that evidence supported 46% of recommendations made on The Dr Oz Show. A full 15% of recommendations on this show were found to be contraindicated by evidence. The remaining recommendations could not be supported or refuted with evidence. Believable to somewhat believable evidence supported 33% of the The Dr Oz Show recommendations.

The Doctors fared slightly better, with evidence supporting 63%, contradicting 14%, and not available for 24% of recommendations. Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 53% of their recommendations.

The Dr Oz Show tended to give predominately dietary advice (39%). The Doctors recommended consulting a healthcare provider most often (18%).

Just more than 40% of recommendations included a description of specific benefits on both shows, and the benefit’s magnitude was described for 17% and 11% of recommendations made on The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors, respectively.

These media experts disclosed potential conflicts of interest only extremely rarely.

The authors conclude what many healthcare providers have suspected: recommendations made on medical talk shows often have either no evidence to support them, or they are contradicted by the best available evidence.

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