Like a Duck: When Quackery and Modern Medicine Collide

Even in the day of the Information Superhighway, patients take the wrong exit to Misinformation Ave. Protoscience, pseudoscience, anti-science, spiritualism, mysticism and plain falsehoods flood some minds at the speed of thought, thanks to the overwhelming white noise of all the advertising methods in existence. Each day I power on my computer, I am bombarded by dozens of ads for colon cleanses, cancer cures, depression eradication methods, an — my personal giggle switch — male enhancement. After more than 7 years in emergency, sports, and urgent care medicine, I have not only learned to avoid the many false leads that spew from media, but have encountered hundreds, if not thousands, who haven’t. Whether it’s a patient who’s developed dyspepsia from downing a gallon of Dr. Oz’s latest miracle fruit juice, or stories of African Witch Doctors (if that’s even the politically correct term these days) who murder albinos and grind their bones into AIDS cures, the consequences can range from discomfort to death. Colleagues who have practices in Clearwater, FL, tell me of Scientologists whose spiritual advisers sign them out with life-threatening conditions. Others who have worked with MSF or gone on mission trips tell me of poisonous wonder drugs from the Sub-Saharan region. All these dangerous concoctions have one thing in common: They’re near impossible to talk their believers out of. It’s always a touchy subject when someone asks you about some breaking news story from last week, or tells you they’ve been eating raw seeds from local plants and think they may have a B16 deficiency. You’ll either be met with hostility or a barrage of “why”...