Are doctors on television just hams?

I recently came across a blogpost entitled “Everyone is Taking to the Camera- Pass the HAM please.” In it, the writer (a published author) says:

I have never seen more Doctors, Lawyers, Judges and ex-politicians on television than I have in the last few years….

Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz certainly must have been good Doctors, but think how much more they have learned on air with a staff and producers that can access any fact in minutes. Working for a producer doing new shows every day is much more demanding than working for patients. These Docs are quite camera friendly and seem to adapt well to the nuances of live TV; including pauses for commercials. Their message is popular and it seems that they here to stay.

….

What conclusions have I drawn from this diverse group of professionals that strayed into the small screen from other high paying professions? I believe deep down we are all HAMS looking for a modicum of fame.

I felt compelled to leave a response and, as you can see, it turned out to be a mini-blogpost. So I share part of it with you here and welcome your own thoughts and opinions.

I think I would have agreed with you on the “ham”-factor a few years ago. I guess I still do to some extent. Any person living in the public eye (including the one online) is likely to be craving an audience, after all. But, as a general practitioner earnestly interested in how accurately the media relays health information, I am less concerned these days about how people (doctors) got onto television and more concerned about the messages they are relaying.

A doctor might find himself deemed camera-worthy by producers after a stint on a matchmaking reality show. Or after being interviewed by Oprah. But what these professionals do with their position is ultimately what counts because their influence is huge. I cannot say whether working for patients or working for producers is more demanding, as I am in full-time clinical practice and have not done the latter. But to me, a big challenge is the fact that ratings (and not responsibility) drive content on television and that medicine discussed on television shows may be anything but “real” for the sake of viewership.

Luckily, more and more doctors are using social media to try to correct misinformation or relay more relevant medical issues without the sensationalism characteristic of television. These physicians might even use video to spread the word. We need good quality information, especially heath information, on television and it ultimately does not matter to me whether this comes from a HAM.

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Winners, Losers at the Golden Globes

Beautiful dresses, talented actors.… What’s not to like about last night’s Golden Globes? Well, how about this little detail from the NYTimes that surprised me:

 6:27 P.M. |To Smoke or Not to Smoke at The Globes

Here’s the difference between Hollywood on screen and off: cigarettes. On screen they are taboo. If you see one it’s accompanied by some carefully scripted moralizing about the ills of smoking. And even then the folks at scenesmoking.org are wary. But here, they give the things away. Seriously. Out on the smoking balcony where we saw Sean Penn pacing and puffing a couple of years ago, tables are thoughtfully stocked with little glass holders crammed with dozens and dozens of recessed-filtered Parliaments. As for drinking don’t even ask.

— Michael Cieply

I cast no judgment on individuals who smoke. In fact, I cringe when others refer to smoking as “ugly” or “disgusting,” both very strong and judgmental adjectives. My job as a physician is to teach people about the harms of smoking and to help them try to quit when they are ready.

Though Hollywood often seems to live by different rules than “the rest of us,” I am fairly certain they are no more immune from the dangers of smoking. That is why I found this “thoughtful” provision of carcinogens at the Golden Globes to be a poor choice from a health and health economics perspective. People should be allowed to smoke if they wish, but maybe the Golden Globes should reconsider having cigarettes readily available next year.

No one but Big Tobacco wins when it comes to smoking.

————

*As an aside -because I can’t help but comment on the fashion- my three favorite dresses of the Golden Globes were worn by Berenice Bejo (Elie Saab), Rooney Mara (Nina Ricci), and Nicole Kidman (Versace).

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Dear TV Producers, You Forgot to Say “Don’t Try This at Home.”

Confession: I have been watching the reality show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I don’t typically have time to watch television, but I end up attaching myself to one reality series for a season. Most often, it is a design competition or cooking show that I watch once a week, such as Project Runway or Top Chef.

Quite frankly, I don’t take shows like The Real Housewives seriously and often wonder if it is bordering on obscene to have such lavish lifestyles displayed on the televisions of homes across America (and around the world) during these hard economic times. But I was particularly disappointed in some of the footage that was shown on last night’s episode. On the show, one of the castmembers took an unknown amount of xanax (a prescription drug that can cause drowsiness and is used for particular types of anxiety) for a flight and was also filmed drinking alcohol (also an unknown amount, though it appeared to be more than 1 drink) while on it. She was clearly affected by the combination, exhibiting psychomotor slowing and slurred speech that was surprisingly more inappropriate than usual for this particular person. What’s worse is that her friends found her all the more entertaining while overly intoxicated and never once cautioned her (or the audience) against combining xanax and alcohol. As a matter of fact, I would argue, this combo seemed to be promoted by portraying this person as entertaining and funny and by devoting a fair amount of air time to her intoxicated state.

The risks of xanax-plus-alcohol were dangerously downplayed here. Both substances depress the central nervous system and can cause coma and death whe taken in excess quantities or used together. The combination of even small amounts can lead to dangerous levels of sedation, poor judgment, and unsafe situations.

I did a web search on the topic of xanax and alcohol and this particular episode to see if anyone else had commented on the high risk behavior depicted in the show. None of the search results explicitly pointed out the dangers of mixing the two drugs. In fact, most blogposts and articles painted it as “awesome entertainment.” The unfortunate fact is, though, that we now live in a time where more Americans die from prescription drugs than from car crashes.  So what makes for good television ratings makes a doctor like me cringe. Xanax is a high-risk medication. Irresponsible use of high-risk prescription drugs should not be glorified on television.

Dear producers, if you want to put that sort of behavior on TV – which I would rather you didn’t – then at least include a stern cautionary warning about it, even if it is only in writing at the end of the episode.

Hopefully, this particular castmember’s own doctor is watching the show and reminds her at her next appointment not to mix xanax and alcohol. Hopefully.

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