Why Dr. Oz will not save pharmacy practice

Retail pharmacy is a competitive business, and these are tough economic times. And as I’ve pointed out before, retail pharmacies are increasingly selling ethically questionable products like homeopathy, positioning them as alternatives to real medicine. So I guess I should not have been surprised when a blog reader, (who is also a very prominent Canadian pharmacy leader) passed on the following to me from Pharmacy Development Services – a program to profile and promote products recommended by Dr. Oz:

In a nutshell, we highlight and create marketing templates and sales-training sheets for specific Dr. Oz recommended products on a weekly basis.

Why Dr. Oz recommended products? Well, have you ever heard or experienced the Oprah Effect? In general, when products are recommended on TV shows such as Dr. Oz, Oprah and The Doctors, viewer’s drive directly to the retail stores with the goal of purchasing these products.

How the program works: Each week, our staff creates detailed product sheets, including sales training information and target questions for your staff. In the packet, we also include marketing templates to display in your Dr. Oz section. Pharmacy owners have seen great results by stocking their shelves with relevant items and using the sales sheets to arm their staff with the knowledge they need to comfortably speak about the products. Once a new supplement is recommended on the show, we aim to create new templates within the week, which shortcuts your process and keeps your pharmacy current and interesting.

Why is this a bad idea? Dr. Oz is a leading, if not the leading proponent of pseudoscience on daytime television. In addition to promoting homeopathy, he’s hosted supplement marketer Joe Mercola several times to promote unproven supplements. He has been called out for  promoting ridiculous diet plans, and giving bad advice to diabetics. So while occasionally he can give more reasonable advice, it’s more typically highly questionable from a science-based perspective. Always, always verify the evidence supporting anything that Dr. Oz profiles or endorses.

So just what products is this program ready to promote? It seems Dr. Oz has been busy:

  •     Artichoke Extract
  •     Konjac Root
  •     Astaxathin
  •     L-Carnitine
  •     Seabuckthorn Seed Oil
  •     White Kidney Bean Extract
  •     Vitamin D
  •     Cocoa
  •     Milk Thistle
  •     Brown Seaweed Extract
  •     Melatonin & Magnesium
  •     Rhodiola & Ashwaghanda

The marketing materials are behind a password, so I can’t verify what they’re saying, and compare it to what Dr. Oz really said. But what’s relevant here is what this program is suggesting you, the pharmacist, tell your customers. It’s not Dr. Oz’s recommendation they need – this is your opportunity to provide your professional opinion on the merits of his featured supplement. Here’s the suggested signage for white kidney bean extract:

Signage coming to an independent pharmacy near you?




Hmm. I wonder what obesity and dietary experts think of white kidney bean extract? The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that there is “Insufficient Evidence to Rate” kidney bean for the treatment of obesity. Data are conflicting and its effectiveness is not established. So suggesting that kidney bean supplements mean you can eat chocolate cake without caloric consequences isn’t a statement backed by robust scientific evidence. The sample and detail documents, go even further:

Bottom Line: Protecting your body on  cheat days, this secret ingredient is a known carb blocker and is perfect for those days when your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Taken along with a high-carb or high-fat meal, White Kidney Bean Extract will block those unwanted calories from being stored in your body and will also keep your blood sugar balanced.

And here are some suggested messages pharmacists can use with their patients:

Smoking Cessation – As you may know, many people who stop smoking are often faced with the risk of weight gain. Would you be interested in taking a supplement that has shown to help prevent weight gain? We want to make sure there isn’t any reason for you to start smoking again.

Patients who are subject to weight gain – Some people are more prone to gaining weight than others. Based on what you’re telling me, would you like me to tell you about a supplement that will help keep off unwanted weight?

Patients who are trying to lose weight – I know you are trying to lose weight. We are so excited about your goals and progress. Would you like me to tell you about a supplement that will insure you keep off the weight throughout the holidays?

I won’t comment further – these messages go well beyond any credible interpretation of the scientific evidence. Selling unproven supplements to patients with real medical needs? It sounds a lot like the “Coke and Fries” supplement promotion that shamed Australian pharmacy practice and created a national uproar. Pharmacists would do well to heed the lessons learned in Australia – put patients, not profits, first.

I see promotions like this and I ask my pharmacist colleagues: Is this where retail pharmacy is going? Is there no way that a pharmacy can survive, if not prosper, based on the provision of medication, products, and advice that are backed by good scientific evidence? Promotions like these will do nothing for the credibility of pharmacists, or for the long-term viability of pharmacy practice.  Pharmacy practice must be science-based, not marketing-based.  This approach, where the pharmacy is just a platform to sell implausible, unproven and ineffective products, is the wrong path for the profession. Pharmacists, don’t let the profession take that path.

For more reading

If you’re looking for more about Dr. Oz’s questionable judgment and dubious recommendations, here’s a summary list compiled at Science-Based Medicine:

From Science-Based Medicine:

From other sources:

6 thoughts on “Why Dr. Oz will not save pharmacy practice

  1. This is so disappointing. I’m not even sure what to say to be honest. As a pharmacist in community practice I spend a lot of my time discouraging patients from taking unproven remedies for their medical conditions. It is exceedingly frustrating that the industry of pharmacy continues to put profit before patients and market this pseudo science.

    In a busy practice I have limited time to offer patients in terms of providing education and encouraging personal engagement in their health. It is inevitable that with a marketing plan such as this one, time will be wasted explaining the lack if evidence for these products.

    What is especially harmful is the promoting of any “pill” or “remedy” that allows a person to consume unlimited calories without health ramifications. Health care professionals, especially those practicing in primary care, work endlessly to help patients understand weight management issues and work towards improving health. Obesity is a risk factor for so many life threatening chronic conditions it is criminal to promote products for profit that will in fact increase obiesity.
    So disappointing…..

  2. It says everything that their #1 reason for pushing the Dr. Oz junk has nothing to do with health or medicine and everything to do with how much they can sell.

  3. I have mixed feelings….I agree we need to provide accurate information to people regarding these remedies. I have never seen Dr. Oz and I always use quality sources for my referals. However, 25 years ago there was this radio “doc” who insisted that ulcers were caused by bacteria. He was the laughing stock of the medical and pharmacy profession. He is probably not laughing now.

    • I’d encourage you to read Kimball Atwood’s summary of Marshall and Warren, which is regularly held up as a “science has been wrong before” argument. In fact, after an initial period of (justified) skepticism, the evidence was rapidly accepted into clinical practice. The history is quite fascinating and I believe it reinforces why we should be very cautious about accepting recommendations from Dr. Oz, which are regularly offered without either evidence, or in some cases, any basis in reality.

  4. Hi – I have just read your blog for the first time, stumbling upon it to see whether Traumeel was any good for arthritis pain. You are AWSOME, Scott! Keep it up! – Linda in Kensington, California

  5. This is certainly disappointing. Pharmacy should be about putting the patients first. If that is done successfully, profit will follow naturally. The public has been conned into thinking that “natural” always means “healthier” or “better.” While that may sometimes be the case, it’s been my experience that those are relatively few and far between. The “natural” products may have side effects just as serious, if not more so, than the prescription medications. Where’s the hard evidence for many of these products? That should be what we base our treatment on!

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