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TV medical talk shows not always backed by evidence

Posted on Jan 12, 2015

In a recent study published in The BMJ, a Canadian research team has found that roughly half of the recommendations made on celebrity doctor shows are often not based on solid evidence.  In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. G. Micahel Allan, director of the Evidence-Based Medicine Program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said that:

“The study was not meant to generate bad publicity for the shows but simply to question what was being said and if there was evidence to support it.”

The study analyzed 40 episodes of “The Dr. Oz Show” and 40 episodes of the show “The Doctors,” all 80 randomly selected. The research examined 80 of the strongest recommendations put forth in each show and searched to see how many of these recommendations were based on medical evidence. The study looked at the language of the television shows to better understand if the recommendations were being geared towards “everyone” as strong recommendations within a series of categories including, dietary advice, consulting a healthcare provider, non-drug medical advice, and counseling, among others.

The most common topic within each show is general medical advice. Advice that is much less specific than that which might be gained by consulting a physician about a particular medical condition or concern.

The research data extracted from the shows found that:

  • For medical recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%. 
     
  • For medical recommendations in The Doctors, evidence supported 63%, contradicted 14%, 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. On average, The Dr Oz Show had 12 recommendations per episode and The Doctors 11.

Roughly a third of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show and half of the recommendations on The Doctors were based on believable or somewhat believable evidence [.]

The study concluded that consumers should be skeptical about the recommendations put forth on popular television medical talk shows because only 1/3 to 1/2 of the information is based on believable or somewhat believable evidence.

The study brings to light the difficulties that some doctors have with patients who self-diagnose based on the information they hear from television shows or similar sources. While the physicians featured in “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Doctors” are well established, professional, and experienced physicians, sometimes their advice is so general that it is not appropriate for everyone. Developing a good relationship with your doctor or healthcare physician is an age-old interaction that allows for a back-and-forth dialogue that seeks to find solutions specifically tailored to a patient’s current case.

Listen to the podcast and discussion of this study below.