Malpractice Advice from Dr. Oz

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Dr. Oz, a well known TV personality, was recently named in a New York lawsuit arising from on-air advice he provided to his viewers.  The doctor allegedly informed his audience about a “heated rice” remedy for insomnia. Dr. Oz called it “my night sleep special” on the April 17, 2012, episode of his NBC show titled “Dr. Oz’s 24-Hour Ultimate Energy Boost Plan.” Unfortunately for 76-year-old Frank Dietl, that Boost Plan left him bedridden for weeks with severe burns on his feet.  According to the lawsuit, Dr. Oz failed to provide proper warnings and instructions about the home remedy.  The plaintiff seeks unspecified damages from Dr. Oz, NBC Studios, Sony Pictures Television and Harpo Productions.

The Dr. Oz lawsuit provides an example of the dangers professionals face when providing advice, especially advice to an unknown audience.  There are particular risks for professionals who address the public, whether it be via a television show, speaking engagement, or online communication. These risks are due in part to the lack of an engagement letter, the inability to address individual concerns or tailor the comments to specific needs. If the public representation, even if innocent and well-intentioned advice, causes harm than the professional is exposed to a malpractice suit.  Proper warnings and limitations must be a part of public (including online) communications to help reduce these risks.