Benjamin Mazer, a third-year medical student at the University of Rochester, recently lodged a complaint to get Dr. Oz to stop making unsubstantiated weight-loss marketing claims on his award-winning talk show.
“Dr. Oz has something like four million viewers a day,” Mazer told Vox.com. “The average physician doesn’t see a million patients in their lifetime. That’s why organized medicine should be taking action.”
In 2013, Benjamin filed a complaint with the Medical Society of the State of New York (where Dr. Oz is licensed), suggesting they regulate the advice of celebrity doctors like Oz.
Specifically, Mazer wants Dr. Oz to stop making sensational claims about “miracle” weight-loss supplements like garcinia cambogia, green coffee bean extract and raspberry ketones.
Without naming specific brands, Oz enthusiastically promoted these pills on his show, insisting they produce fast weight loss without exercise or eating less. Mazer said Dr. Oz’s lofty claims should be subjected to the same guidelines for truthfulness as expert legal testimony.
While Mazer’s passion to reduce medical quackery is admirable, it’s extremely unlikely Dr. Oz or other celebrity doctors like Travis Stork will be regulated because there is no legal precedent for such a move.
Dr. Oz Won Lawsuit Brought by Injured TV Viewer
In October 2013, Dr. Oz won a lawsuit brought by a viewer who claimed he had suffered third-degree burns after following insomnia advice Oz suggested on his TV show.
In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Saliann Scarpulla of the New York Supreme Court ruled there was no duty of care between a television talk-show host and his vast home-viewing audience.
Without commenting on the merits of Dr. Oz’s insomnia advice, the judge said Oz did not have a physician-patient relationship with the plaintiff, and therefore was not responsible for his injuries.
Judge Scarpulla said the plaintiff should have consulted with a real-life doctor instead of relying on health advice from a TV doctor.
Furthermore, the judge said she couldn’t find a good reason to create a “duty-of-care” relationship between a TV doctor and his audience that would leave him liable for injuries viewers sustain while following his advice.
Judge to Plaintiff: TV Doc Is Not Your Personal Physician
Scarpulla said a doctor-patient relationship is not created simply by a TV physician looking into a camera and addressing his millions of anonymous at-home fans.
Judge Scarpulla said viewers should exercise their own judgment and consult a doctor (in person) before implementing health remedies suggested by a TV doctor.
In June 2014, Dr. Oz was scolded by Senator Claire McCaskill, chairman of the Senate’s consumer protection panel. McCaskill accused Dr. Oz for making ridiculous claims about the many “miracle” weight-loss supplements he has shilled on his top-rated talk show for the past five years.
“I get that you do a lot of good on your show, but I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” said McCaskill. “The scientific community is almost monolithically against you in terms of the efficacy of the products you called ‘miracles.'”
In response, Dr. Oz admitted some of his remarks did border on hyperbole, but insisted he actually stands by most of his claims. “I do personally believe in the items I talk about,” he said.
Despite the negative press he’s weathering now over his weight-loss supplements, Dr. Oz has spotlighted some very important health issues on his show, like the dangers of processed chicken from China, and the cancer risks of carrying a cell phone in your bra.
Whether the weight-loss product marketing claims of celebrity doctors can be legally regulated or not, Dr. Oz’s larger concern is the court of public opinion, as damaged credibility will jeopardize his future as both a TV star and a physician.