What's the Burden for Doctors in the Office?
The problem, she says, isn't just that some treatments are unproven. It's that they're being touted as one-size-fits-all solutions.
"Medicine and the doctor-patient relationship is kind of a dance," says Dr. Liu. "It's complicated. There are prevarications and complications. You have to talk about the risks and the benefits of a treatment. There's very little that we can tell every patient and have it be true every time. Those things are: eat vegetables, exercise, wear seat belts, vaccinate. But if you are trying to make a TV show, you run out of those topics very quickly."
Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, an Indianapolis internist specializing in adolescent medicine, agrees that the sensationalism can be a problem because doctors must spend precious time during office visits dispelling false impressions. "Most of the health claims they make say, 'You should discuss this with your provider.' That is a big disclaimer, and that's all well and good, but sometimes we providers have to spend a lot of time talking patients out of things that they think they need."
That time isn't necessarily wasted, she's quick to note. While doctors may have to spend valuable time explaining why certain TV treatments aren't advisable, the conversations can be an important segue into educational conversations about better alternatives.
The dark flip-side to that argument is that not all viewers have a relationship with a trusted doctor who can provide guidance about the products they've heard about and, where necessary, evidence-based alternatives.
"I'm very happy when patients come in and talk to me about what they've heard," says Jack Chou, MD, a Los Angeles physician and board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "My concern is that viewers hear about things on TV, and they don't have a family doctor or a trusted source to check with. How many patients are out there trusting the word of TV doctors and not checking with a physician?"
They're Not Going to Disappear
Whether they view them as a scourge or a conversation starter, however, doctors agree that celebrity doctors and the stories they share—just like the reams of information available on the Internet—are part of the societal landscape. "The horse is out of the barn. You can't rein it back," says Dr. Chou.
In light of that, Ajoy Kumar, MD, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based family practitioner, says that doctors need a strategy for responding to the information that patients are receiving from television.
"A lot of physicians will say, 'I wish my patients were more engaged in their healthcare.' Well, guess what? Thanks to these shows, they are," says Dr. Kumar. "They just may not be engaged in the way that you or I would want them to be."
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Cite this: The Maddening Way That TV Docs Affect Your Practice - Medscape - Sep 18, 2014.