An excellent, nearly 9,000-word profile of Dr. Oz in the February issue of the New Yorker explored the doctor's devoted, often fanatical following. His show averages
nearly three million viewers a day. While Oz has been accused of using incomplete and shoddy data (especially in nutritional information and GMOs), that doesn't seem to have undermined his popularity. Buying nutrient-rich peanut butter may be a harmless, actually health-improving purchase, but how does the average
person know how to evaluate broader medical claims? And does their aura of celebrity hinder or bolster the trust viewers place in these supposed health
gurus regardless of medical credibility?
Back in 2011 outraged parents protested popular brands of apple juice with supposedly high levels of arsenic, despite FDA claiming confidence in the safety
of those products. I was a proofreader for a popular parenting blog when the infamous apple juice episodes aired. But regardless of the accuracy and
science behind Oz's claims, panic emerged in both supermarket aisles and the comments section.
Earlier this year, a national survey of over 2,000 people, conducted by online doctor reviewing and rating service, Vitals, found that 71 percent
of patients care more about their "emotional connection" with a doctor than the doctor's actual credentials. And this is reverberating across the airwaves.
Through his nice-guy appeal and ready-for-the-camera good looks, Oz cultivates an aura of concern, comfort, and trust. Combine that with sensationalized
apple juice reporting, and it's easy to see how he plays off of fears and desires, rather than appealing purely to intellect.
This kind of medical provocation isn't limited to the cult of Oz -- nor is it necessarily a bad thing. Overall it can be valuable that basic health issues get exposure, even if they are presented in a way that's sensationalized and emotionally pandering. When Katie Couric got a colonoscopy on the Today Show over 10 years ago, she
inspired an audience of millions. There was reportedly a 20 percent increase in the procedures in the years that followed.
Other times, we're much more skeptical of the processes we see and how they're being sold to us. When country singer Mindy McCready committed suicide,
saddened fans and critics alike were quick to chide Dr. Drew's addiction recovery methods as dubious and exploitative. She was the fifth patient on Celebrity Rehab to die in the past two years from complications from addiction or mental illness.
While an anchorwoman's colonoscopies and a country star's struggle with addiction are vastly different issues that took place in vastly different contexts
-- both were very public and both raise similar questions. What is it about a woman in a lab coat or a man in scrubs peeking into our living room that makes
them earn our undying trust or become the subject of our scorn? Or as is sometimes the case, both.