How Does Dr. Oz Keep His License?


It’s documented to the point of undeniability that Dr. Oz promotes crank science and all manner of medical scams and frauds on his popular TV show. So how can he do that and still keep his medical license? Julia Belluz explains why. Hint: Because none of the groups that could do anything about it want to.

The AMA—the steward of the medical profession of which most American doctors are a member—has ethics guidelines that do address some of the problems with Oz’s work. “There are ethical opinions the AMA puts out that say that a physician is always going to be truthful and not going to mislead patients,” an AMA spokesperson says.

For example, the AMA Code of Medical Ethics states, “It is unethical to engage in or to aid and abet in treatment which has no scientific basis and is dangerous, is calculated to deceive the patient by giving false hope, or which may cause the patient to delay in seeking proper care.” But this provision falls under the category of “nonscientific practitioners” (i.e., naturopaths) and would not apply to actual MDs like Oz.

Well that makes perfect sense — the only ones who are allowed to con you are the ones most likely to be believed by people. Brilliant.

So what about the state? A spokesperson at the department of health in New York, where Oz is licensed, pointed to the definitions of physician misconduct. According to the New York code, doctors are prohibited from, “Advertising or soliciting for patronage that is not in the public interest… is false, fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, sensational, or flamboyant.”

On its face, that restriction would seem like the exact type of regulation that would shut Oz down. But it’s not so easy: As Stephen Latham, a lawyer and director at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics explains, it’s actually drafted to stop doctors from profiting from their own snake oil.

“It prevents physicians from falsely advertising their own goods and services,” he says, “not from making bogus claims about other people’s goods and services, with no financial interest.”

Oz is not practicing medicine when he calls supplements “magic weight loss cures” or “lightening in a bottle” on TV. He also denies any financial stake in the products he features on his show, so the state regulator has no grounds on which to go after him.

I bet an investigation would find that he’s being paid to promote those products.

Steven Hoffman, an international lawyer and visiting professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who has written about Oz’s medical advice, thinks so. He said medical-regulatory systems need to change so that doctors like Oz are held to account.

“The medical profession has made Oz one of its most credentialed guild members. But he has a long history of crazy practices. For some reason, he’s able to practice mass medicine on millions of virtual patients, which means regulations have not caught up to where they need to be.”

Ya think?

Comments

  1. eric says

    “It prevents physicians from falsely advertising their own goods and services,” he says, “not from making bogus claims about other people’s goods and services, with no financial interest.”

    Rhetorical question, but is the New York Department of Health really that stupid? What, do they think the networks put on his show out of the goodness of their hearts?

  2. cptdoom says

    Please note the AMA is powerless in this matter. They could, if Oz violated their guidelines, expel him from membership, but that has no impact on licensure, because that is the province of state governments. There is no national credentialing body, and the AMA is more correctly thought of as a professional lobbying group, not a national medical science body.

  3. says

    cptdoom: you’re probably right, but Oz’s expulsion from the AMA would nonetheless send a powerful message that the medical community does not consider him credible. That wouldn’t stop him from “practicing,” but it would set his PR back a good bit, would discourage other big-name media figures from associating with him, and would probably give NY a nudge toward disciplinary action.

  4. D. C. Sessions says

    If you want a more egregious example, why not Stanislaw Burzinski?

    I won’t bury y’all in details. If you care, go see what Orac has to say on the subject.

  5. marcus says

    There are also First Amendment issues to be considered. As long as he is expressing his personal opinion (erroneous though it obviously is) a certain amount of his bullshit is protected speech. I agree that expulsion from the AMA would be a credible, legal and reasonable action to take (for the reasons Raging Bee stated above) as no one necessarily has a ‘right’ to be a member of a professional organization. However, (IANAL) I doubt that the state could bring legal sanctions to bear because a lot of what he does would be considered “speech” rather than “practicing mass medicine to…virtual patients” (what does that even mean?)
    Perhaps one if our resident legal eagles could weigh in…Pierce?

  6. jamessweet says

    I bet an investigation would find that he’s being paid to promote those products.

    I’m not so sure it’s that simple. Oz has so much momentum now, he makes money just by being himself, by being the kind of doctor who recommends those kinds of miracle cures and whatnot. It would be silly to jeopardize that status by taking money to promote a specific product. He is much better off continuing to be a general promoter of those kinds of products, and raking in the cash in a way that protects him from censure.

  7. says

    If you need to treat Dr Oz, and if you’ve got Dr Oz I think you’ll agree that you do, I’ve got an amazing product for Dr Oz. Miraculous, really. You’re going to want to get some as soon as you can, so that you can experience a Dr Oz-free day. Get a pen. Write this down. Then, after the show, rush off and get it. Here it is. First, you’ll need to grab a TV remote control. Then, and this is the miraculous part, hit “Channel up”. It will change your life. Coming up after the break, why people on TV can’t be trusted…

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    marcus @ # 6: Perhaps one if our resident legal eagles could weigh in…Pierce?

    ?!? Huh? IANALE – I ain’t no ordinance osprey, nor even a regulatory robin.

    My only claim to legal legitimacy lies in (so far) never having been arrested, not even when … never mind.

  9. marcus says

    @9 Sorry Pierce your posts are always so considered and insightful with regard to legal issues that I just assumed… (Ass out of me not u.)

  10. eric says

    Marcus:

    However, (IANAL) I doubt that the state could bring legal sanctions to bear because a lot of what he does would be considered “speech” rather than “practicing mass medicine to…virtual patients” (what does that even mean?)

    I can see your argument for why the state should not revoke a professional licence for private speech. However, when Oz says or implies that he recommends some product as a medical doctor, that’s either on the job speech or pretty close to it. And let’s be honest here, when you splatter you credentials across your show, all the advertisements for your show, when you wear a white lab coat etc… on the show, then a reasonable viewer is going to interpret that you are, indeed, speaking as a doctor; that you are giving advice as a medical professional, not just as ‘Mehmet the guy who lives down the street.’

    Jamessweet:

    It would be silly to jeopardize that status by taking money to promote a specific product. He is much better off continuing to be a general promoter of those kinds of products, and raking in the cash in a way that protects him from censure.

    I doubt there’s direct quid pro quo. But then again, unlike the current supreme court, I don’t think direct quid pro quo should be the only form of professional corruption that is legally punishable. Do you?

  11. colnago80 says

    Re marcus @ #10

    There are some lawyers who post comments here, namely Ben P and John Pieret come to mind of the top of my head.

  12. anachronistes says

    He’s paid indirectly, through advertisers continuing to support his show and the network it’s on. Too far removed to be able to demonstrate a direct financial support.
    It’s too bad there isn’t an evidence-based medical show called “Dr. Zo” or something to counteract this…

  13. says

    @14:

    Maybe yes, maybe no. If he’s the executive producer and has control over how the show is financed and other day-to-day operations it would be relatively difficult to show that he has no financial interest. There’s a money trail there, sure as shit.

  14. says

    anachronistes ” It’s too bad there isn’t an evidence-based medical show called “Dr. Zo” or something to counteract this…”
    Now you’re just being ridiculous. “Dr Oz” backwards is “Zord“.

  15. marcus says

    eric @ 11 You present a valid point and a good argument for state action and I concur. Just to be clear, I wasn’t arguing that the state “shouldn’t” act against his quackery, but rather that perhaps they couldn’t (or that it would be exceedingly difficult).

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