"Buzzwords for quackery": Pa. doctors speak out against Oz

click to enlarge "Buzzwords for quackery": Pa. doctors speak out against Oz (2)
Photo: Courtesy of World Economic Forum
Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2012 at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland

A group of Pennsylvania physicians held a roundtable discussion Thursday to air concerns about Dr. Mehmet Oz's medical record, which they say includes a history of “lying to the American people about medicine.”

Oz, the Republican candidate running for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat, is a cardiothoracic surgeon and former TV talk show host. The Real Doctors Against Oz roundtable in Philadelphia was organized by Oz’s Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

“Historically, physicians have not necessarily been so active in political endeavors. And I think there's been a sense of wanting to remain a little bit separate from it,” said Dr. Benjamin Abella, an emergency physician in Philadelphia. “But this election is very different. Because in this election, our patients are at risk. Frankly, we're very concerned by what we see, and many of us are coming off the sidelines now to address these issues.”

The anti-Oz practitioners now claim to include more than 150 doctors across the state, who have signed a letter outlining their concerns about his candidacy. Some of the signatories have omitted their full first or last names and could not be independently verified by Pittsburgh City Paper.

Dr. Belinda Birnbaum, a physician in Montgomery County, stressed yesterday that none of the doctors on the panel was paid by the Fetterman campaign, or works for the campaign.

“We’re here united and working together because we know that keeping Mehmet Oz out of office is vital to the health of Pennsylvania," Birnbaum said. "Oz has made a career of lying to the American people about medicine and we know that he will continue to lie to us as a legislator.”

In an email to City Paper, Brittany Yanick, Oz' communications director, disputes the criticisms, calling the senate candidate "a world class surgeon, inventor, educator and author in the field of healthcare."

"He has designed devices that have made healthcare more affordable and safer, written eight New York Times best sellers, and hosted the number one health show in the world, which has inspired millions to take charge of their healthcare," Yanick writes.

"John Fetterman is a radical liberal supporting government takeover of healthcare. Dr. Oz is a doer, which is more than John Fetterman can say given the fact that he's lived off the public dime his whole life, received an allowance from his parents until he was nearly 50 years old, and he would be a rubber stamp for the failing Biden Agenda."

Shortly before the event, the Washington Post reported this week on a slew of products Oz had peddled on his show, such as his promotion of green coffee bean extract for weight loss and a diet of “endive, red onion and sea bass” to treat ovarian cancer. Both treatments, and many others Oz promoted on his show, have been challenged as ineffective by healthcare and physicians’ groups, the Post found.

The criticism of Oz’s medical credentials also follows a recent report by the feminist news website Jezebel, which cited 75 medical studies that Oz oversaw between 1989 and 2010 that conducted research on animals, killing more than 300 dogs.

In a television interview Tuesday, Gisele Fetterman, wife of Oz’s Democratic opponent John Fetterman, said she found the claims “heartbreaking.”

“Last night I really held onto my dogs extra hard and showed them all the love that I could,” Fetterman told KDKA’s Jon Delano.

In Philadelphia two days later, Dr. Matthew Magda, an emergency medical physician practicing in the city, said by promoting “miracle cures” on his show, Oz had preyed on sick people’s desperation.

“One of the hardest things for us to do is sit down with people and help them navigate the difficulties of meeting the real world challenges… and trying to take care of their often very complicated health problems,” Magda said. “And it’s hard enough to understand the problem without someone else adding fairy tale-esque miracle cures that don’t do anything.”

Retired rheumatologist Dr. Mark Lopatin said words and phrases that Oz used to promote products on his show, such as “revolutionary miracle, magic in a bottle,” are “buzzwords for quackery. These are the words we warn our patients about.”

Birnbaum described some patients of hers who had tried the remedies Oz peddled on his television show. One man, who she was treating for high blood pressure and hypertension, ended up in the emergency room with a headache and chest pains.

“Instead of using his copay to pay for his blood pressure medication, he used it to buy a ‘natural’ Oz remedy that didn’t work,” Birnbaum said. The emergency room was able to stabilize the patient, she added, but he was deeply embarrassed by the incident.

Lopatin and Birnbaum both criticized Oz’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19, a treatment that has been widely debunked. “And we won’t even begin to mention the financial investment that Mehmet Oz made in hydroxychloroquine,” Birnbaum said, alluding to a September CNBC report that detailed Oz’s financial ties to pharmaceutical companies that make the drug, which is used to treat malaria.

Abella said Thursday that Oz’s attempts to distance himself from past claims made by guests on his show, which ended in January of this year after just over 12 years on the air, were disingenuous.

“Where’s the integrity there?” Abella said. “It’s his show, he booked the guests. He’s a physician, if they say something that he doesn’t believe in, he has an obligation to tell his listeners what he thinks.”

Yanick told the Post it was “idiotic and preposterous to imply that he shared the same beliefs and opinions as every guest on his show, or that having someone on his show constitutes a blanket endorsement of their beliefs.”

The doctors said they will continue to speak out about Oz and his past promotion of unproven medical treatments.

“This is very uncomfortable for us, this is not something we do on a regular basis, quite honestly,” Abella said. “But we feel motivated. We feel we have no choice because our patients come first.”