Beware of the information on popular television talk shows on health and medicine, which can be misleading, according to a new analysis.
“The research supporting any of these recommendations is frequently absent, contradictory or of poor quality,” says Christina Korownyk, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, in a news release.
“The public may see these shows as educational,” adds Mike Allan, professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the same university. “But in many ways we wonder if that’s really what they’re there for and perhaps they’re just there for entertainment.”
Korownyk and Allan analyzed two top syndicated medical talk shows to evaluate – The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors. They looked at the recommendations provided on the shows after hearing concerns from colleagues whose patients took information provided by them as absolute fact.
“Some patients come in and say ‘I heard on Dr. Oz yesterday that we should all be doing this.’ And then we’re left scrambling in our office to try to find answers,” says Korownyk. “It got us reflecting, what’s being said there? What kinds of things are being recommended and what kind of information is being provided?”
They recorded shows between January and April 2013 and selected 40 episodes at random to evaluate. The researchers watched the episodes independently and wrote down topics, recommendations, and who made the recommendations. Another two researchers then rewatched the episodes, asking whether there was a benefit mentioned to the advice, whether it was specific, if costs were mentioned, and if there was a mention of conflict of interest.
The researchers pulled 80 of each shows’ strongest recommendations for a total of 924 recommendations and looked for actual medical evidence to support them.
“One out of three recommendations from The Dr. Oz Show has believable evidence and about half of the recommendations on The Doctors has believable evidence,” says Korownyk.
“Frequently you’re not getting enough information and without doing the research you won’t know if it’s supported by evidence or not,” adds Allan.
Overall, the most common topics on both shows were dietary advice, and both shows listed specific benefits for recommendations on dietary advice (42.6 percent for Dr Oz and 41.3 percent for The Doctors. By comparison, the magnitude of the benefit of the recommendations wasn’t mentioned near as often – 16.5 percent for Dr. Oz and 11 percent for The Doctors.
Additionally, possible harms in the recommendations were rarely mentioned – Dr. Oz was 9.8 percent and The Doctors was 7.6 percent. Costs for recommendations also were rarely mention – as low as 3.1 percent for The Doctors.
Korownyk and Allan also note there were only four times that mentions of potential conflict of interest by the presenter of a recommendation were mentioned.
Allan says it is clear that viewers aren’t being given enough information to make the best balanced and individual decisions.
“Our bottom line conclusion is to be skeptical of what you hear on these shows,” says Allan.