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Research Christmas 2014: Media Studies

Televised medical talk shows—what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 17 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7346
  1. Christina Korownyk, associate professor of family medicine1,
  2. Michael R Kolber, associate professor of family medicine1,
  3. James McCormack, professor of pharmacy3,
  4. Vanessa Lam, research assistant2,
  5. Kate Overbo, research assistant2,
  6. Candra Cotton, pharmacist1,
  7. Caitlin Finley, research assistant1,
  8. Ricky D Turgeon, pharmacist3,
  9. Scott Garrison, associate professor of family medicine1,
  10. Adrienne J Lindblad, associate clinical professor of family medicine1,
  11. Hoan Linh Banh, associate professor of family medicine1,
  12. Denise Campbell-Scherer, associate professor of family medicine1,
  13. Ben Vandermeer, biostatistician4,
  14. G Michael Allan, professor of family medicine1
  1. 1Department of Family Medicine, University of Alberta, 6-10 University Terrace, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2T4
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, 2J2.00 WC Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2R7
  3. 3Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, 2405 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z3
  4. 4Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence, University of Alberta, Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, 11405-87 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 1C9
  1. Correspondence to: C Korownyk tina.korownyk{at}
  • Accepted 19 November 2014


Objective To determine the quality of health recommendations and claims made on popular medical talk shows.

Design Prospective observational study.

Setting Mainstream television media.

Sources Internationally syndicated medical television talk shows that air daily (The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors).

Interventions Investigators randomly selected 40 episodes of each of The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors from early 2013 and identified and evaluated all recommendations made on each program. A group of experienced evidence reviewers independently searched for, and evaluated as a team, evidence to support 80 randomly selected recommendations from each show.

Main outcomes measures Percentage of recommendations that are supported by evidence as determined by a team of experienced evidence reviewers. Secondary outcomes included topics discussed, the number of recommendations made on the shows, and the types and details of recommendations that were made.

Results We could find at least a case study or better evidence to support 54% (95% confidence interval 47% to 62%) of the 160 recommendations (80 from each show). For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%. For recommendations in The Doctors, evidence supported 63%, contradicted 14%, and was not found for 24%. Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 33% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and 53% on The Doctors. On average, The Dr Oz Show had 12 recommendations per episode and The Doctors 11. The most common recommendation category on The Dr Oz Show was dietary advice (39%) and on The Doctors was to consult a healthcare provider (18%). A specific benefit was described for 43% and 41% of the recommendations made on the shows respectively. The magnitude of benefit was described for 17% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and 11% on The Doctors. Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest accompanied 0.4% of recommendations.

Conclusions Recommendations made on medical talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits or the magnitude of the effects of these benefits. Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed. The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.

Additional details of methods used and changes made to study protocol


  • Contributors: CK, GMA, MRK, JMcC conceived and designed the study. CK, GMA, MRK, JMcC, VL, KO, CC, CF, RDT, AJL, HLB, SG, DC-S, BV acquired, analysed, or interpreted data. CK, GMA, JMcC drafted the manuscript. CK, GMA, MRK, JMcC, VL, KO, CC, CF, RDT, AJL, HLB, SG, DC-S, BV critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. BV, GMA conducted statistical analysis. CK, GMA obtained funding. GMA provided administrative, technical, and material support. GMA, JMcC, MRK, CK supervised the study.

  • Funding: This study was supported in part by the David and Beatrice Reidford Research Scholarship through the University of Alberta (valued at $2400). The sponsors had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Transparency: CK affirms that the manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned have been explained.

  • Data sharing: For further information on the dataset, please contact the corresponding author at

  • Compliance with reporting guidelines: As we are unaware of other similar studies, there is not a template with which to perform this type of study. We used STROBE guidelines where possible but could not adhere to it rigidly.

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