Celebrity Docs and the Ick and Quack Factor

"Beware of Quack Doctors"
(Photo credit: Courtarro)

Today on a listserve I am active on, a health reporter from Florida wrote that she recently received an e-mail invitation from a marketing firm basically bribing her to write a blog post on Dr. Colbert. The offer was for $5 for a 100 word ‘unique content’ blog post about Dr. Colbert. The offer also included a $25 dinner certificate (Florida Blueplate special anyone?) and the “opportunity to earn commission on each and every sale you generate.” I knew about–and have fended off–blogging bribes/product placement like this, but the bribes I get are nursing school related. I hadn’t realized that physicians as ‘brands’ had gotten into this. Silly me: everything in our country seems to be for sale. Never having heard of Dr. Colbert or what he sells, I looked him up.

From his website (based in Orlando, Florida and purposefully not linked here) , Dr. Dan Colbert states he is “board certified in Family Practice and practices Anti aging and Integrative medicine.” You have to dig for that though as what first pops up on the website is “Cyber Monday Extended! 20% off! This Christmas give them the gift of health!” with a photo of the tanned, fit, blond-haired Dr. Colbert holding out a wrapped Christmas present to an adoring crowd of people all reaching for it. He sells many products including vitamins, nitric acid capsules, weight loss drops, and green coffee bean extract. As a description for each he includes dubious health claims such as: “Reduction of and sometimes complete recovery from food-related and seasonal allergies” and “Provides detoxification of heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins that may accumulate over time.” There’s the ever so tiny * at the bottom of the page with the oddly worded disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Dr. Colbert is the author of many books (also for sale on his website), including What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, Living Longer. (Proving that anything can be published in our country). Not surprisingly, he obtained his medical degree from Oral Roberts University and he holds no academic appointments. I won’t get into details here, but he has had several fines and reprimands by Florida Health/Medical Quality Assurance, the professional licensing body of Florida (available to the public on their website). And he (of course!) has appeared on the celebrity doc/ick factor Dr. Oz show. Dr. Oz of the “how many orgasms does it take to have per year to be healthy and live to old age?”  (I think the correct answer is 200 and as our year is running out, get busy!) Dr. Oz of the TV episode “Dr. Oz’s 13 miracles for 2013” that included his endorsement for red palm oil as an anti-aging remedy. Dr. Oz, a Harvard-trained Columbia University cardiothoracic surgeon who consults with psychics on his show and seems to take them seriously. Does anyone remember that Oz was a very fake wizard in a very green place with a very yellow-(gold)brick road?

Who exactly is supposed to be monitoring the professional practices of these “mediatainment” “mega-brand” physicians? (quotes from the article below).

For an excellent critical reflection article on Dr. Oz and his ilk, I highly recommend you read Michael Spector’s New Yorker article “The Operator: Is the Most Trusted Doctor in America Doing More Harm Than Good?” (Feb 4, 2013).

* I suppose I could, but will not, submit this blog post  to the “Dr. Colbert Paid Blogger Opp + More” in order to receive my $5 and $25 Florida Blueplate  special. My elderly father in Florida will have to get something else for Christmas this year. And it won’t be What Would Jesus Eat? either….

** I am aware that even negative publicity is publicity. Dr. Oz needs no publicity and I tried to minimize/eliminate direct links to Dr. Colbert in this post.

Into the Sunset

dadatbeachIn October 2010 I first wrote about the journey of my elderly father through declining health and the healthcare maze. In my blog post titled A Practical Man and Modern Medicine this is how I started his/our story:

Today on the phone, my 87-year-old father asked me to be his patient advocate. He is facing tough health care decisions over the condition of his heart, and is scheduled for surgery in a week. He is a practical man, bright, charming, and articulate, with no cognitive deficits that I can detect. He told me where his Living Will and Advanced Directives are, where he wants his body donated for medical research, and what to do when his CD matures (he’ll be in surgery) so that he can roll it over to a money market account. He says he needs access to the money for his after-hospital care, in case he survives surgery. I am thinking about the health policy issues within all of this: 1) heart failure accounts for the largest portion of Medicare expenditures, 2) none of his doctors have talked with him about what all is involved with this surgery, or what quality and quantity of life he can hope for afterward, and 3) home care provided by family members is not well supported (financially and otherwise) in our country. As his daughter and as a family member embedded in the health care system, what do I do with this information?

Almost three years later I still don’t know what to do with this information. I have discovered the healthcare system to be even more bewildering and capricious than I had imagined. I last wrote about my father this past fall in the post Transitions (October 22, 2012), when I was back in Virginia helping him survive the rough crossings between four different health care settings in six weeks—the last one being the calmest and sanest of all—home hospice. My father was weak, oxygen-dependent, and had advanced wasting from end-stage congestive heart failure. His cardiologist didn’t expect him to live much past Christmas. The day after hospice started my father used his walker to get from his hospital bed in the living room to the studio in the back of the house. Once there he strapped himself into his recumbent exercise bicycle and started “getting back into shape again.” We all thought he was nuts, but decided if he wanted to die while riding his bike off into the sunset of the studio that was his choice.

Since then he has confounded his cardiologists who say that by all objective measures my father should be so physically disabled as to be bed bound. Instead, he once again ‘graduated’ out of home hospice and as I write this he is riding his ‘real’ bicycle off into the ‘real’ sunset on a beach in Florida to meet up with friends for Happy Hour, sans alcohol for my teetotaler father. The photo to prove it was taken by my niece who is his caregiver for a few weeks.

Clearly my father’s story is not over, even though he has finished writing his memoir in barely decipherable handwriting on ten legal pads, which are in the mail to me. My father wants me to transcribe them and make into a book. “After all, this whole memoir business was your idea,” he said to me. He wants to proofread the final draft to make sure I didn’t change any of his words.

Last fall I wrote an essay titled Home Death about my experiences with the healthcare system, as I tried to uphold my role as health care advocate and proxy for my father. It was published recently in Johns Hopkins Public Health: The Magazine of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Special Issue 2013. You can read it here.

The End of New Age Naked Body Scanners

English: An image of Susan Hallowell, Director...
English: An image of Susan Hallowell, Director of the Transportation Security Administration’s research lab. http://www.slate.com/id/2160977 taken with backscatter x-ray system, which is in use for airport security passenger screening. This is not the image that screeners see at the airports. The machine that took this image does not have the privacy algorithm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In previous blog posts I’ve written about the ludicrous recent technological ‘enhancements’ in our country’s airport security screening procedures. I described the time I was helping my elderly wheel chair bound father fly to Florida. (see “Annual Check-Up by TSA,” 12-28,10) Not only were my dry grits confiscated (by a hungry TSA worker no doubt), but I was also given such a thorough TSA pat down that I suspected I’d received a pap smear.

I have always refused to go through the ridiculous Rapiscan advanced imaging technology units better known as Naked Body Scanners. I wasn’t as upset about the naked part as I was about being zapped by unnecessary exposure to radiation. That has meant I’ve received many of the wonderful TSA pat downs (and pat ups or maybe pap smears as I pointed out with the aggressive crotch search they do). At the Richmond International Airport (which consistently has the worst airport TSA staff ever in my experience) I’ve even resorted to wearing my one-piece Speedo under my travel clothes. I then disrobe in the screening area to try and well—speed things up. It usually throws them off enough that I get ‘processed’ quickly, as well as probably being entered into some Looney-bin watch list for flights. I’ve done my share of writing nice letters of complaint to the National Aviation Safety Board or some such agency, protesting the body scanners and invasive pat-downs.

So I was ecstatic when I read the recent announcement that TSA is terminating their contract with OSI Systems, the company that makes the body scanners. They’ll  remove all the naked body scanners from airports by June. Actually, last June Congress passed a bill banning detailed body image airport scanners, but they granted OSI Systems a generous one year extension to try and come up with a technology fix for the existing scanners. The fix never happened (nor was it likely to have ever been possible), so TSA is replacing the naked body scanners with safer and less invasive targeted scanners that use radio waves instead of radiation. TSA states they are making this change after complaints from the public about the level of invasion of privacy of the body scanners, as well as health concerns from exposure to radiation. I’m wondering why TSA can’t just contract with the makers of Speedo to give all passengers swimsuits….

But wait! Who owns OSI Systems, the company that manufactures and sells the crazy naked body scanners? It’s Deepak Chopra—but not the physician turned guru of positive energy and New Age healing. That would be just too weird. It’s some other Deepak Chopra who appears to make even more money than the good psychic physician does. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the Deepak Chopra who is the OSI Systems founder and director is 61 years of age and currently has an annual salary and compensation package of $7,034,066. His company also makes many of the medical monitoring systems found in our hospitals.

Hospital Dirty Laundry Exposed

Laundry (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

Julie Creswell and Reed Abelson of the NYT are writing a series of fascinating articles exposing hospital giant HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), now the largest for-profit hospital chain in the US. Their NYT article today “A Giant Hospital Chain is Blazing a Profit Trail” finally explains to me the story behind the strange digital billboards I saw in June when I was visiting my father in Richmond, Virginia. They seemed to be everywhere along major roads, flashing obnoxious red-lighted wait times for the emergency rooms at two HCA hospitals–one being CJW, which the NYT article calls out as being one of the worst hospitals in the US in terms of bedsores (bedsores being a fairly good indicator of poor nursing care).

Last week (8-6-12, “Hospital Chain Inquiry Cited Unnecessary Cardiac Work) they wrote about a whistleblower, C.T. Tomlinson, a traveling nurse, who in 2010 worked as a cardiac nurse at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Florida. Tomlinson was present in the cardiac catheterization lab when an HCA cardiologist inserted a stent into a patient who did not need it. Tomlinson reported the incident to his nursing supervisor who supposedly told him to forget about it. So he wrote a letter to the chief ethics officer of HCA’s hospitals in Florida who investigated his complaints and found them to be substantiated. Soon after Tomlinson wrote the letter of complaint, his contract to work as a nurse with HCA was terminated. It is not clear from the article whether or not he has filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination under Whistleblower protection. The HCA chief ethics officer’s investigation found that about half of all the cardiac catheterizations at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center were unnecessary, but did not alert the patients involved. It is unclear how many patients may have been harmed by the unnecessary cardiac work they had done. HCA also did not alert Medicare, state Medicaid or private insurers who were charged for the expensive procedures.