Dr. Val Jones recently wrote a Better Health post that was critical of Dr. Mehmet Oz. Her piece questions Dr. Oz’s credibility as a source of health information. I retweeted her mention of the post and quipped that I was unlikely to be a guest of of Dr. Oz any time soon. For a short spell the twittersphere had some fun detailing the potential repercussions of dissing Dr. Oz.
I received a handful of interesting DMs in the hour following our twitter exchange. One, interestingly, conveyed surprise that physicians would so publicly criticize another physician. Two DMs suggested, “you don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
The last two DMs made me realize how health celebrity is potentially dangerous for the consuming public. The celebrity offers unique authority in the eyes of the public. When patients trust a source like Mehmet Oz the implications for health behavior can be dramatic – both for good and bad. Even physicians may be disinclined to question their position. The implication in those two DMs was that any question of Oz’s authority, even through a retweet, was professionally risky and should be avoided.
I found this frightening but not surprising.
With respect to Oz, some physician communicators are starstruck. The simple mention of Oz and his predilection for the peculiar has been known to result in an awkward silence. I sense that some are more likely to calculate the tempting eventuality of one day sitting next to Oz before ever stepping up and publicly questioning his information. Or, more simply, they’re afraid of him. He holds the power to bring others into the public eye. And for some this potential for personal gain is more important than insuring that the message is right.
It’s important to remember that our potential as physician content creators offers the medical community much more influence than any one medical celebrity. But it takes the initiative of each and every physician and health professional to raise the questions. Each of us has the responsibility to cultivate a platform and call out questionable health information – or at least raise the issues for debate.
It’s our obligation to watch our public messengers and exercise the prerogative taken by Dr. Val.