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Skeptic Uncovers Some Of The Week’s Medical Quackery

Hey there skeptifans. Here are the media Fails and Wins you sent me last week.

Edzard Ernst on alternative medicine
After Steve Jobs death, which we now know may have been hurried due to his decision to choose alternative treatments over evidence based ones, Maclean’s chose to run this Q&A with alternative medicine expert Edzard Ernst. Several years ago Dr. Ernst set out to find out if there is evidence to support the most popular alternative treatments. His findings were that the vast majority of alternative medicine is quackery. I hope this interview will help sway some people on the fence about chiropractic and other placebo treatments.

Family Doc Says No To Perilous Chickenpox Pops
Anna spotted this story on NPR. Apparently, there is a mom in Texas selling chicken pox infected lollipops to Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Skeptic North*

Goodbye, Dr. Oprah – And Good Riddance

I wrote once that not only is Oprah Winfrey not a doctor, she plays a really bad one on TV. From promoting Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement, to allowing Suzanne Somers a bully-pulpit for her medical woo, to pushing Prudence Hall and her high-dose hormone treatments without acknowledging their potential risks, to leading the church of the Secret as a way to avoid facing the harsh realities of cancer, Oprah did more harm than good when it comes to health.

And while the publishing industry may be hanging crepe, the medical community is breathing a sigh of relief that Oprah has left the airwaves, at least for now. After all, we “conventional” docs were repeatedly relegated to a seat in the audience by Oprah, who usually presented us as naysayers and officials in the Church of Medicine to Oprah’s self-appointed Galileos of Woo, rather than the health experts we are. Of course, it was all couched in terms of female empowerment, a tactic that Oprah long ago taught marketers can be used to sell anything and everything to women.

My axe to grind against Oprah is not just professional, it’s personal. For I saw my sister, nearing the end of her life, turn to the Secret, believing that if she just believed enough in herself, she would be cured. Rather than strengthen her, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*

Warning: Dr. Mehmet Oz Is Not A Trustworthy Source Of Health Information

When I was in medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Mehmet Oz had the reputation of being a competent and caring cardiothoracic surgeon whose research interest was reducing preoperative stress. I remember hearing about a music study of his in which soothing melodies reduced blood pressure and heart rates in patients preparing for heart surgery. I felt pleased that a surgeon was leading the charge in improving patients’ O.R. experiences, and had no inkling that 15 years later Dr. Oz would be America’s chief snake oil salesman.

I have been slow to criticize Dr. Oz on my blog because of a sense of loyalty to my medical school, however yesterday he crossed the line when things got personal – a friend of mine was negatively impacted by his misinformation to the point where her life was endangered. From watching his TV show, she was led to believe that she would put herself at risk for thyroid cancer if she got a mammogram. Several of her relatives have had breast cancer, and she should be particularly vigilant in her screening efforts. However, because Dr. Oz said that mammograms may themselves cause cancer, she opted out of appropriate screening.

My colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science Based Medicine has done an excellent job of documenting Dr. Oz’s almost Charlie Sheen-like career descent. Although he began his work as (presumably) a science-respecting surgeon, he now spends a lot of his time hosting a TV show that features faith healers, anti-vaccinationists, and psychics.

But how does the average lay person know how to evaluate Dr. Oz’s health claims? When Oprah’s network promotes him as “America’s physician” the platform itself offers him credibility, and a reach that can damage and misinform millions like my friend. I have a feeling that many of my peers at Columbia are concerned about Dr. Oz’s promotion of quackery, but once they’ve invested in his brand for so long, it’s easier to turn a blind eye to his nuttiness than to oust him from his academic positions. At what point is a celebrity doctor doing more harm than good to an institution’s reputation? Is he now “too big to fail?”

But back to my main point – dear readers if you watch Dr. Oz and think that he’s a credible source of health information, please be aware that much of what he says is inaccurate, exaggerated, and based on mystical belief systems. Please don’t act on his advice without checking with your own physician first.

Sadly, good science doesn’t always make good television. But the truth can make you well. Be warned that you are unlikely to find the truth consistently on the Dr. Oz show.

Better Health Bloggers Make “O” Magazine’s “Best Doctor’s Blogs” List

Check out this preview article (dated October 20, 2010) by Madonna Behen on Oprah’s “O” Magazine website entitled “4 Doctor’s Blogs to Read Now,” where two of the four doctors’ blogs listed are regular Better Health content contributors. They are family physician Lucy Hornstein, M.D., author of “Musings of a Dinosaur,” and internist, cardiologist, and cardiac electrophysiologist Wesby Fisher, M.D., author of “Dr. Wes.”

An excerpt:

You thought physicians were robotic and cold? A new epidemic of personal blogs written by docs might change your mind. These medical scribes are boldly posting their real feelings (and worst fears) on the web, for all the world to see. Their journals provide us patients with an informative and humanizing look behind the professional mask.

Congratulations to these great physician bloggers of ours for making up half of the list!

Medical Terminology Reasoning (Or Lack Thereof)

SpitballIt’s been a very long time since I did an “Ask Dr. Rob” post. It’s also been a long time since I shot a spitball out of a straw and hit someone behind the ear during social studies class. I realize that just because it’s been a long time since I’ve done something, it doesn’t mean the world is better off with me doing it again.

Still, there have been some interesting questions that have come up and I think it’s time they should be answered. They’re both along the same line:

Question 1: What’s the difference between health care and healthcare? I see that you contribute to the Health Care Blog, but you write about healthcare all of the time. What’s the deal?

Question 2: What’s the difference between EMR and EHR?  It seems that some people feel that it’s vile and uncouth to call it “EMR,” only accepting people who call it “EHR” into their secret societies of people who are smarter than everyone else. What’s the deal? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

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