For Sale: Snake Oil

September 16, 2010

"60 Minutes" aired an episode this past weekend exposing con men who preyed on the helplessness and desperation of dying patients ("21st Century Snake Oil"). The show used hidden cameras to expose a con man promising a cure for multiple sclerosis and ALS using stem cell therapy. We know better, but the average Joe doesn’t. The "salesman" wasn’t even a doctor.

"60 Minutes" aired an episode this past weekend exposing con men who preyed on the helplessness and desperation of dying patients ("21st Century Snake Oil"). The show used hidden cameras to expose a con man promising a cure for multiple sclerosis and ALS using stem cell therapy. We know better, but the average Joe doesn’t. The "salesman" wasn’t even a doctor.

Examples are best used when going to an extreme. This was a great example of the dearth of credible medical information on the Web. This lack of information leads to a level of ignorance allowing people to believe anything.

Without any recognized cures and without any true awareness, these con men took advantage of them and sold them their snake oil. Just as in the old days, when snake oil was sold as a cure-all, the victims of this show had no real, credible information to thwart these quacks and believed that stem cells could cure their disease. The "doctor" was in Mexico and didn’t even have a license.

Scott Pelley also interviewed some of the leading stem cell researchers. They confirmed that there were presently no stem cell therapies available. They also noted that there were several thousand Web sites offering bogus cures based on stem cell therapy. What they were also saying was that there aren’t any "real" sites to compete with the quack sites.

We know no cures yet exist...but the average Joe?

Let’s look at this from another angle. The common cold. The average Joe still thinks a "Z-Pak" is going to cure him of his sneezing and stuffy, runny nose due to a viral infection.

While the diseases cited by "60 Minutes" are rare compared with the common cold, the depth of knowledge our patients have about a cold is just as poor.

In both instances, there is lack of education stemming from lack of information. In neither case am I blaming us (health providers), but am recognizing that we have an opportunity, and a medium, to make things different.

While neither you nor I really are well versed about stem cell research, we do have a better chance at educating about the common cold. In fact, this is more mainstream for us.

Consider writing an article or two for your Web site about what you know best. Pick a topic that is common to your practice. Consider posting something that is of real value - and credible.