Healthcare Celebrity – Putting healthcare professionals in the spotlight

James I think your cover is blownBlog post by Colin Hung

Over the past month, I have been following the latest controversy surrounding TV’s Dr. Oz  (Dr. Mehmet Oz). I find the whole situation fascinating and I thought it would be interesting to discuss the concept of healthcare celebrities with the #hcldr community this week.

The latest controversy involving Dr. Oz started when a group of 10 physicians from various parts of the US sent a letter to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where Dr. Oz is vice chair of the Department of Surgery. In that letter these 10 physicians expressed their surprise and dismay that Dr. Oz remains a member of the faculty. They go on to say that Dr. Oz is misleading the public through his TV, radio and other media endeavours and should resign from his position at Columbia University.

You can read more about the controversy here and here.

Reading these stories and watching the back-and-forth from Dr. Oz got me thinking about the nature of celebrities in healthcare. Dr. Oz is just one example of a healthcare professional who has been placed on a pedestal by the public or by the media outlets they work for. There are other healthcare “celebrities” on TV such as: Dr. Phil, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Laura and the venerable Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Should these celebrity healthcare professionals be held to a higher standard? Should they hold themselves to a higher standard given the reach and power of their voice/opinion? Or is the standard the same for all healthcare professionals whether or not they are in the public’s eye?

Kevin R. Campbell, MD, cardiologist, UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, N.C., weekly Fox News contributor was quoted in a MedPage Today post as saying:

As physicians we have a responsibility to accurately represent ourselves and any therapy or treatment to our patients. As a physician who also works in the media world, I feel an even greater responsibility to make sure that everything that I say is well supported by good clinical trial data.

I believe that it is my responsibility to ensure that my viewers (and patients) have a clear understanding of therapies that are both proven with solid scientific research and those that are supported only by anecdotal evidence. While supplements and alternative therapies may be important to some patients and physicians, I believe it is the physician’s responsibility to make sure that patients understand that there are no miracle drugs or wonder pills.

#hcldr friend Dan Dunlop of Jennings Healthcare Marketing wrote an excellent post about the “Cult of Celebrity in Healthcare” and states:

Of all people, a physician ought to understand just how desperate an individual can be when dealing with chronic illness and poor health. To play on the hopes of these individuals, and to pander to the public’s desire for a quick fix to health and wellness challenges, undermines the efforts of legitimate healthcare and public health professionals. From my perspective, there’s enough bad information out there; we don’t need celebrity physicians contributing to the confusion and misinformation.

Celebrities aren’t just in TV and radio shows. Some healthcare celebrities achieve notoriety because they are featured in advertising.

There are many healthcare organizations that put their doctors and nurses front-and-center in their marketing campaigns. By highlighting the passion, dedication, acumen and skill of its staff, a healthcare organization can attract new patients and fellow healthcare professionals. After all, both patients and professionals want to work with “the best and brightest”. This form or advertising is also a great way to put a human face to an otherwise faceless organization. INTEGRIS Health, for example, has a series of videos that feature physicians at their hospitals.

Although the featured professionals are not national celebrities, they are still placed on a pedestal in the public’s eye. Do these professionals have to conduct themselves any differently than their non-public peers? Are these ads really affect patient decisions?

Social media is another source of healthcare celebrities. Kevin Pho MD, Bryan Vartabedian MD and Eric Topol MD are just three examples of healthcare professionals who have (at least in my opinion) become social media healthcare celebrities. Each of them tweet and post about a variety of topics. Each in the own way are helping to push the frontiers of medicine and medical practice.

Should social media healthcare celebrities be held to the same standard as their TV counterparts? Or is social media celebrity somehow different?

Personally, I believe that people in the public eye should hold themselves to a higher standard – not because the public demands it, but because it is the right thing to do. I think that when you have the privilege of an audience that listens/reads/watches you, you should treat that privilege with respect and act with integrity. That means, amongst other things, making sure that stories are researched, conflicts of interest disclosed and opinions/conjecture is not passed off as fact.

If this is done, then I see no reason why a healthcare professional cannot be a “celebrity” or a spokesperson. I see nothing inherently wrong with a physician or a nurse being in front of the camera talking about the latest breakthrough medicine or device – as long as they are truthful and their facts are correct. There are certainly risks involved, but I don’t believe healthcare professionals should be prevented from doing this.

I must admit that I am influenced by the healthcare professionals who are active on social media. This doesn’t mean I follow them blindly, but I do give serious weight to what they say online. I consider many of the healthcare professionals who are contributors to #hcldr as influencers.

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Join the #hcldr weekly tweetchat on Tuesday May 26th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) where we will discuss the following topics:

  • T1 Is it okay for healthcare professionals to be spokespeople for medicines/devices/services?
  • T2 Should healthcare celebrities (TV, radio, print and social media) be held to a higher standard than their non-public peers?
  • T3 Do TV healthcare celebrities influence your decisions? What about those on Twitter or other social media?
  • T4 What advice or guidance would you give someone who listens/watches healthcare celebrities?


“Physicians to Columbia University: Dismayed that Dr. Oz is on faculty”, Debra Goldschmidt, CNN, April 22 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“Dr. Oz calls out the 10 ‘mysterious’ doctors, stands up for his position on GMO labeling”, Nicole Oran, MedCity News April 23 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“Exclusive: Dr Oz Says ’We’re Not Going Anywhere’”, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Time, April 23 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“The Cult of Celebrity in Healthcare”, Dan Dunlop, The Healthcare Marketer, April 28 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“Hollywood Trumps Harvard”, Frank Bruni, New York Times, April 22 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“Dr Oz Your backtalk backfired. 81% of docs say leave healthcare”, Nicole Oran, MedCity News, April 28 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“Is their integrity on the line when doctors pitch products”, Kevin B O’Reilly, American Medical News, March 24 2008,, accessed May 23 2015

“The 21st Century Physician Spokesperson”, Bryan Varabedian MD, 33charts, June 14 2011,, accessed May 23 2015

“The Cult of Dr Oz Crumbles”, Linda Girgis MD, Physician Weekly, May 8 2015,, accessed May 23 2015

“Friday Feedback: MD Celebrities in the Land of Oz”, Elbert Chu, MedPage Today, June 20 2014,, accessed May 23 2015

“Pfizer to End Lipitor Ads by Jarvik”, Stephanie Saul, February 2008, New York Times,, accessed May 23 2015

Image Credit

James I think your cover is blown – Ludovic Bertron


  1. I can’t remember this doctor’s name, but in the early nineties there was a well-known physician-author who was fired from his job as a weekly featured consultant on a popular daytime TV show about homemaking because he refused to stop criticizing children’s breakfast cereal (which was heavily advertised during the show) and to stop encouraging breastfeeding (guess what else was heavily advertised on the show!) His case was the opposite of Dr. Oz: this guy kept repeating the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics even though it wasn’t popular with the mainstream.

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