There used to be a time when patients mostly turned to their own doctors for advice about staying healthy and managing illness. But in the age of information and celebrity (including celebrity-physicians like Dr. Oz), this has obviously changed. In light of this latest Dr. Oz controversy, I started thinking that he could actually be the best thing that happened to the allopathic medical community. Oz, I believe, could actually show allopaths a way back to Kansas, a way back to the more sacred trust between the physician and her patient. Consider, WHY do some Dr. Oz viewers equate or even elevate his opinions over their own doctors’? The #OzsInbox hashtag really got me thinking about this one.
I bet Dr. Oz’s team had NO IDEA what they were opening themselves up to when they solicited questions from his 3.58 million Twitter followers.
Lots of folks responded, and according to a post on the blog MDigitalLife, this included several physicians and medical professionals who tweeted hundreds of responses– and they weren’t exactly lavishing praise on the embattled cardiac surgeon.
As a physician myself, I have a little bit of a different take on Dr. Oz’s celebrity platform. First, I agree with my fellow physicians (and the U.S. Congress) that he should refrain from talking about weight loss supplements and other products that haven’t proven effect from rigorous studies, like they’re miracle pills– I mean, he should really cut that out. It’s misleading and downright wrong.
BUT, I think many of us in the medical community may benefit by stepping back and asking some soul-searching questions, like WHY do audiences trust Dr. Oz so much? While I think part of the answer lies with the fact that miracle pills trumpeted by a doctor are insanely attractive, I think another part has to do with the perceived HUBRIS of the allopathic medical community.
From my own experiences watching the show, I respect the fact that he at least acknowledges alternative medical treatments and interventions, all of which are rarely discussed or outright ignored by the broader, allopathic community. (And I do recognize that many alternative therapies lack a level of evidence-base, but lack does not always equal negative or no treatment effect– lack of evidence means, “lack of evidence.”)
Implied in Dr. Oz’s acknowledgement of alternatives is that allopathic medicine has short-comings, too— and I think people are drawn to that idea. Obviously, Dr. Oz doesn’t have all the right answers… but neither do we. Allopathic medicine– yes, even evidence-based allopathic medicine, has important shortcomings that our community often fails to sufficiently acknowledge.
I would even go as far as to say this is why we are struggling to promote life-saving vaccinations, or why leadership at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) failed to engender the public’s confidence and trust in its handling of ebola in the U.S. When allopathic medicine makes the equivalent of miracle pill statements by touting treatments and certain preventative measures as fool-proof, the public takes even the perception of any failure whatsoever, and blows it up in ways that really mess up our credibility on some things. Bottom line, we just don’t do that great a job of communicating risk and uncertainty to the public.
Listen, I’m just one MD with one opinion; most of my colleagues may disagree. But maybe the irony here is that in examining Dr. Oz, we can learn something valuable about ourselves. Maybe he is the beginning of our roadmap back to Kansas.