The Maddening Way That TV Docs Affect Your Practice

Shelly Reese


September 18, 2014

In This Article

"I Heard on TV..."

For many doctors, the phrase "a doctor on TV said" prefaces a fair number of patients' remarks.

Television is filled with doctors whose faces have become familiar fixtures in Americans' homes—from TV hosts such as Mehmet Oz, Drew Pinsky, and Travis Stork and his team on The Doctors, to the networks' ubiquitous medical correspondents such as Sanjay Gupta, Richard Besser, and Nancy Snyderman.

Collectively they bombard viewers with health information on everything from herbal remedies and scientific breakthroughs to sexual disorders and Ebola. Helping patients wade through the morass of information and differentiate evidence-based findings from more dubious treatments can be time-consuming and maddening, physicians say, but the conversations can also pave the way for deeper patient engagement and education.

That's Entertainment

Daytime healthcare programming often tap-dances across the border of evidence-based medicine into a murky, unproven realm. In June, Senator Claire McCaskill, Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, led a panel that took Dr. Oz to task about his zealous endorsement of unproven products and supplements, including green coffee bean extract, which he described on his show as a "magic weight loss cure" that will "melt your fat away."[1]

Infomercials hawking health-related products, such as those for weight loss or skin care, may exacerbate the problem because the advertisements sometimes feature real physicians and may resemble traditional talk show programming.

For physicians working to direct patients toward evidence-based treatments and taking a greater role in their own care, those types of claims can be maddening.

"At least once a day, a patient will reference something they saw on TV," says Robyn Liu, MD, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, "and I cannot think of an instance where a patient came to me with information from a TV show that was beneficial to them."


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