Althea A. Fung


Thoughts. Dreams. Random Stuff.

Finally Someone is Calling Out Dr. Oz, But What About the Others?

If you know me in my personal life, you know I have a strong distaste for Dr. Oz and “medical professionals” of that ilk.

His show is an hour long infomercial disguised as an entertainment health program. He jumps from one “magic” herbal remedy that hasn’t been FDA approved to the other like a late night QVC “knick-knacks and kitsch” episode. How someone who is respected in the medical community could degrade himself and his credentials in such a manner is beyond me. He’s like the Sham-wow guy or Mr. Set-it-and-forget-it without a catchphrase. But I digress.

While perusing the interwebs, I came across an article about a letter, signed by a gaggle of “disgruntled” physicians demanding that Columbia dismisses this shyster from its prestigious medical school. As a Columbia alum (though not from the College of Physicians and Surgeons), I find it disturbing that this man holds any position of leadership at the school by day and is a snake oil salesman by afternoon.

What’s more alarming is, he’s not the only one. I cringe every time I see a physician on a TV show or in the newspaper, commenting on medical issues. It is particularly dangerous when they comment on the health status of a celebrity they haven’t treated.

In the United States, the healthcare industry is bound by the HIPAA law – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which ensure the security of healthcare information. It means a medical professional who has treated a patient is not allowed to disclose any private health information (PHI) unless authorized by the patient.

So, if Dr. A treats celebrity B, he can’t tell Magazine C about the procedures or outcomes of the personality, unless the star waves the confidentiality. But in a society that has lost all personal boundaries, the way to get around PHI is to have a health professional who has had no contact with the patient speak in generalities about the condition and the patient’s status.

This practice smells unethical because you are presenting yourself as an authority on an issue unique to a patient without having any actual knowledge of the patient’s condition. I’m not opposed to a physician speaking on a recent study or general health information about a health concern that is common in the media, like the Indiana doctor who talked to CBS about the current HIV outbreak.

The issue isn’t just about divulging private information. It’s much bigger than that. People trust doctors. A 2012 Gallup poll found 70 percent of Americans believe doctors. And you should trust doctors, and they generally are good people invested in providing patients with the best information about they’re health. They are a much more reliable source of health information than Wikipedia.

But with people hanging on every word of these TV docs, maybe they should re-evaluate whether the check from selling the snake oil is worth more than a healthy patient population.