Since his earliest appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Mehmet Oz is often referred to in the media as America's Doctor. With his weekday daytime TV show reaching an estimated hundreds of thousands of households (although reported to be dwindling), a significant number of Americans have come to take advice from him as if he was their personal doctor. They have opened their hearts and minds to him as if he were the doctor who examined them, knows their medical history, overall lifestyle, and daily psycho-social challenges, and has assumed responsibility for their health; a doctor who only has their best interests at heart. In an era of ubiquitous health advice found on the web, in print media, and TV, and an increasing reliance on such advice by the general populace, it would not seem to be too far-fetched to take medical advice from Oz, a licensed and practicing physician who can legally dispense such advice. Or would it be?
My Doctor Said...
One gentleman named Frank Dietl, 76, who lives in Southampton, New Jersey, thought it was safe to take such advice. Not a good move. Here’s what happened to Frank after watching the April 17, 2012, episode of the NBC show titled "Dr. Oz's 24-Hour Ultimate Energy Boost Plan," during which Oz offered advice on what he called "my night sleep special."
Oz’s advice centered on a "Knapsack Heated Rice Footsie," a pair of socks with uncooked rice -- "just enough to fill the toe of the sock" -- and heated in a microwave oven. He told his audience to "put this in the microwave until it's warm [and then]…put the socks on your feet and go to bed.” According to Oz, "when you do this and lie for about 20 minutes with those socks on in bed, the heat will divert blood to your feet to your heat" and "when your feet get hot, guess what happens to your body. It gets cold. Your body will automatically adjust its core temperature and as it gets cooler, you're going to be able to sleep better because your body has to be cold in order to be sleepy. He recommended this in combination with a cup of Rooibos Tea to reduce "tensions, headaches and irritability," would help facilitate sleep. He went on to add that "If you can do this the right way, you're going to be thanking me for years to come."
Dietl, a diabetic with peripheral neuropathy in his feet, which means he has loss of sensation, followed Oz's advice thinking it applied to him because Oz made no verbal disclaimers (discussion ahead on Oz's written disclaimers). The result was that due to Dietl's inability to feel that the socks were too hot, he suffered third degree (the worse type of) burns. He sued Dr. Oz and his producers and distributors -- including co-defendants NBC, Sony Pictures Television, ZoCo Productions and Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions-- claiming that Oz neglected his "duty and obligation to warn viewing audience as to the possible effects of following the advice offered" and "to warn against certain effects of said medical advice as to those persons suffering from other additional medical conditions."
Specifically, the civil lawsuit filed in a New York State court stated that "Dietl was severely injured, bruised, and wounded, suffered, still suffers and will continue to suffer for some time physical pain and bodily injuries and became sick, sore, lame and disabled and so remained for a considerable length of time."
Oz Is Not Your Doctor
Six months later, in October 2013, Oz deservedly had the lawsuit against him dismissed because the judge in the case felt that no doctor-patient relationship existed between Dr. Oz and his studio audience. According to Judge Saliann Scarpulla who wrote in a brief decision dismissing the claim, the plaintiff, "Dietl has pointed to no authority that would lead this court to find a duty of care between a television talk-show host and his vast home-viewing audience, and Dietl fails to convince this court that creating such a duty would be sound public policy."
At the hearing, Dietl's attorney told the judge that what the plaintiff was arguing was not a "quasi physician-patient relationship" but that Oz still breached a duty of care by providing negligent medical advice. Specifically, Dietl believes that Oz should have warned the audience of the dangers related to the at-home remedy if not properly prepared as well as the dangers if the audience had prior medical conditions.
The judge, however, still believed this argument amounts to one of a physician-patient relationship and was unwilling to accept a legal theory that would create a duty of care just because a physician looks into a camera and addresses an unseen audience.
For once, I have to side with Dr. Oz and agree with the judge.
The Oz Disclaimers
I think Dietl's first mistake was not heeding the fine print on the disclaimer that flashes on the screen at the end of each Dr. Oz Show episode. Here's the disclaimer:
“Please note: This show is only intended to provide general information and is not specific medical advice. You should consult with your own healthcare professional before altering or beginning any course of treatment. ZoCo is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions and you are strongly encouraged to do your own research prior to any medical decisions you make."
On Oz's website, which contains summaries of his shows plus other info, the disclaimer goes even further, when it states "This website is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment."
Now try to imagine your reaction if your own doctor made such statements to you. Some people may say that these disclaimers are merely a protection against lawsuits in a highly litigious society and Dr. Oz really does want you to take his advice--given all the research he claims has been done by his "team" in vetting such advice--without consulting anyone else. If you’ve watched his show then you heard him say words like "I'm telling you what to do."
Should You Take Medical Advice From the Dr. Oz Show?
Nevertheless, a judge says the Dr. Oz Show does not have a doctor-patient relationship with you. The disclaimers on the show and website state that Oz and his guests don't expect you to take their medical advice without first consulting a legitimate source. The disclaimer states don't just take their word on anything, do your own research.
Dietl’s second mistake was taking medical advice from a TV show that offers such advice for “entertainment purposes only” and may not care what happens to you if you take such advice because if it did, the show would otherwise explain the associated dangers like you may burn yourself. Or when Oz says everyone should take a baby aspirin, he would warn about possible bleeding and other horrible side effects (like one I got).
I think the facts are clear. The Dr. Oz Show is pure entertainment and as the show displays on its own, the info provided “is not specific medical advice” and “you are strongly encouraged to do your own research prior to any medical decisions you make
Finally, really good advice from the Dr. Oz Show.