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Sensationalism And Misinformation About Diabetes: Oprah And Doctor Oz Are At It Again

The Open Letter Mailbag.  Also looks like a sack of potatoes.  BUT LOW CARB ONES!  :pDear Oprah and Dr. Oz,

Diabetes is very expensive to manage and to treat the complications of, but what comes at an even higher cost is the damage of statements from a doctor, claiming that diabetes is reversible. I was diagnosed as a child, and my type 1 diabetes is not the result of any controllable factors. However, I have many friends who have type 2 diabetes who can make the same claim.

I can’t lie – I had a lot of hope about your episode regarding diabetes.  Even though it was billed as “the silent killer” and even though I knew you’d show the darkest side of diabetes-related complications possible to “sensationalize” this disease, I was holding out because I wanted this episode to be accurate. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Six Until Me.*

Mythbusters For Moms: Dr. Rahul Parikh (Salon.com) And Dr. Val Discuss Top Pediatric Misconceptions

rahulparikhSince mainstream media is feeding parents a constant stream of health information that is often inaccurate and poorly vetted (just ask Gary Schwitzer), I thought it would be helpful to create a new series at Better Health: Mythbusters for Moms. Now, I know that moms aren’t the only ones who will benefit from “straight talk” from healthcare professionals, but the alliteration was simply irresistible.

Our first guest of the series is Dr. Rahul Parikh. Rahul is a board-certified pediatrician who works at Kaiser Permanente’s Walnut Creek Medical Center in California. Prior to becoming a pediatrician, Rahul completed a degree in molecular biology at UC Berkeley, and his medical degree at Tufts in Boston.

Online, Rahul is perhaps best known for his columns, featured at Salon.com. There he takes a critical look at media misinformation about health and science, and has spoken out against misleading content promoted by Oprah Winfrey and the Huffington Post.

You may listen to an audiocast of our conversation here (or read a short transcript below):

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When Fame Corrupts: The Embarrassing Downward Spiral Of Celebrity Doc, Mehmet Oz

The newest media Doc on the block is Dr. Mehmet Oz. When he was first seen on Oprah, he seemed engaging and answered some interesting questions in a real and professional way. The audience loved his blue scrubs and boyish clean cut open style.

That was then.

Let’s face it…the media spotlight seems to corrupt even the best physicians. Dr. Oz now has his own show and website and production company. That is a pretty big infrastructure to maintain and we know that the public is fickle. So what does he do?

His “Real-Age” website got 27 million people to sign up and take a health quiz. That information was sold to pharmaceutical companies who used the direct emails for marketing. Real-Age also sends the participants a series of emails about conditions they may (or may not) have and drugs they can use to treat it, based on their answers to the on-line health quiz, sponsored by drug companies of course. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

The Decade’s Top 5 Threats To Science In Medicine

As 2009 comes to an end, it seems that everyone is creating year-in-review lists. I thought I’d jump on the list band wagon and offer my purely subjective top 5 threats to rational thought in healthcare and medicine.

Of course, it strikes me as rather ironic that we’re having this discussion – who knew that medicine could be divorced from science in the first place? I thought the two went hand-in-hand, like a nice antigen and its receptor… and yet, here we are, on the verge of tremendous technological breakthroughs (thanks to advances in our understanding of molecular genetics, immunology, and biochemistry, etc.), faced with a growing number of people who prefer to resort to placebo-based remedies (such as heavy-metal laced herbs or vigorously shaken water) and Christian Science Prayer.

And so, without further ado, here’s my list of the top 5 threats to science in medicine for 2009 and beyond: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

The Oprah-fication Of Medicine

OprahUnfortunately, a frequent topic on SBM has been the anti-vaccine movement, personified these days by celebrity spokesmodel for Generation Rescue Jenny McCarthy and her  boyfriend comedian and actor Jim Carrey. Unfortunately, it is a topic that is unlikely to go away. We’ve all speculated why the anti-scientific emotion-based notion that vaccines somehow must cause autism persists in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary, but I think the question goes much deeper than that because it’s not just about vaccines. The anti-vaccine movement is but one of the most visible components of a much deeper problem in our public discourse, a problem that values feelings and personal experience over evidence, compelling stories and anecdotes over science.

I’m referring to the Oprah-fication of medicine in America.

Why Oprah? you may ask. I’m happy to tell you. Oprah Winfrey has been the host of the highest rated syndicated talk show in television history, her self-named The Oprah Winfrey Show. The show has been running for nearly 23 years, with over 3,000 episodes. Winfrey is so famous that she is one of those rare celebrities who is known instantly by just her first name. Say “Oprah,” and virtually everyone will know to whom you’re referring, and her show is often colloquially known as simply Oprah. Given this unprecedented level of success, which has made Oprah a billionaire and a ubiquitous presence on TV, her own magazine, her own satellite radio station, and, soon, her own cable channel, Oprah has developed a media empire that few single individuals can match or beat. Indeed Rupert Murdoch is the only person that I can think of who likely has a wider reach than Oprah. Personally, I have no problem with Oprah’s level of success. Clearly, she is a very talented and savvy TV host and businesswoman.

Unfortunately, in marked contrast, Oprah has about as close to no critical thinking skills when it comes to science and medicine as I’ve ever seen, and she uses the vast power and influence her TV show and media empire give her in order to subject the world to her special brand of mystical New Age thinking and belief in various forms of what can only be characterized as dubious medical therapies at best and quackery at worst. Arguably there is no single person in the world with more influence pushing woo than Oprah. Indeed, she puts Prince Charles to shame, and Kevin Trudeau is a mere ant compared to the juggernaught that is Oprah Winfrey’s media empire. No one even comes close. No one, and I mean no one, brings pseudoscience, quackery, and antivaccine madness to more people than Oprah Winfrey does every week. (She doesn’t discuss such topics every day, but it seems that at least once a week she does.) Naturally, Oprah doesn’t see it that way and likely no one could ever convince her of the malign effect she has on the national zeitgeist with respect to science and medicine, but that’s exactly what she does. Consequently, whether fair or unfair, she represents the perfect face to put on the problem that we supporters of science-based medicine face when trying to get the message out to the average reader about unscientific medical practices, and that’s why I am referring to the pervasiveness of pseudoscience infiltrating medicine as the “Oprah-fication” of medicine.

Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Latest Interviews

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

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Latest Book Reviews

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

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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