Celebrity Physicians Health Communication

The Cult of Celebrity in Healthcare

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.09.58 PMAs a healthcare consumer, there is no official organization out there protecting me from bad health information; that applies to information I gather online and through my consumption of mass media. (The FDA does try to protect me from exaggerated or false claims from pharma companies, but their reach is limited.) Let’s face it, health information and misinformation is flying at us from all directions. And none of it comes with the healthcare equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. That includes information that I gather from media-anointed celebrity physicians like Dr. Oz – a man who has caused quite a stir in medical circles of late.

Last week I read a terrific op-ed piece in The New York Times (online) by Frank Bruni, titled “Hollywood Trumps Harvard.” To some extent, it is a piece about the cult of celebrity.

About midway through the article, Bruni takes on Dr. Oz. He does so in a beautiful and compelling manner. Here’s a very brief excerpt from his commentary (you’ll want to read the whole thing for yourself):

“Oz has morphed not just willingly but exuberantly into a carnival barker. He’s a one-man morality play about the temptations of mammon and the seduction of applause, a Faustian parable with a stethoscope.” (Source: NYT online, “Hollywood Trumps Harvard,” April 22, 2015.)

Wow! Bruni’s article comes at a time when physicians (with questionable motives) are petitioning Columbia University to cut ties with Dr. Oz for his supposed quackery. For years I have listened to physicians with the best of motives complain about the bad advise that Dr. Oz dishes out. My only hope is that this recent criticism doesn’t further fuel the legend of Dr. Oz and embolden his efforts.

Of course, others have jumped on the “hating of Oz” bandwagon. Most everyone will recall Senator Claire McCaskill calling out Dr. Oz when he testified before a Senate Subcommittee nearly a year ago. He’s also fair game for the media. Here’s a link to a story about John Oliver’s recent take down of Dr. Oz. CNN gives their take on the situation in an April 27, 2015 story titled “Who’s Really Harmed by Dr. Oz?

Here’s my take: Anyone who takes advantage of people who are desperate for “miracle cures” is lower than low. Of all people, a physician ought to understand just how desperate an individual can be when dealing with chronic illness and poor health. To play on the hopes of these individuals, and to pander to the public’s desire for a quick fix to health and wellness challenges, undermines the efforts of legitimate healthcare and public health professionals. From my perspective, there’s enough bad information out there; we don’t need celebrity physicians contributing to the confusion and misinformation.

I don’t know about you, but I get health scams emailed to me everyday. Here are a couple that I receive regularly. They may look familiar. My point in sharing these is that the public is bombarded with bad health information from disreputable parties. On top of this, we don’t need physicians who work for reputable organizations like Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital adding to the morass.  (Remember, the examples below are scams. I’m confident that CBS News, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, AccentHealth and others mentioned in these email messages are not involved in the production, distribution or sponsorship of these bogus messages. But this is what consumers have to sort through on a daily basis.)

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1 comment on “The Cult of Celebrity in Healthcare

  1. Pingback: Healthcare Celebrity – Putting healthcare professionals in the spotlight | hcldr

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