Vaccines and 3-Parent Babies: Why People No Longer Trust Their Doctors

02/26/2015 11:24 am ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015
M I WALKER via Getty Images

The recent measles outbreak, and the choice by affluent and otherwise intelligent parents to take risks with their children's health by denying them vaccines (against all reasonable medical advice) underscores a lack of trust people have in the medical system.

This is totally understandable, given how medicine and science are covered in the media, presented to us by politicians (such as Chris Christie or Rand Paul, who pander for votes regardless of sound scientific advice), or by untrained celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who warn against the dangers of vaccines while encouraging e-cigarettes and Botox.

Unfortunately, even the medical doctors on television are often a problem, as they trump science and evidence to boost ratings. Today, most people see more medical doctors on television than they do in a medical office or hospital. This means people often get lousy advice as medical studies are sensationalized or manufactured.

Television doctors earn great ratings, but sacrifice accurate advice. An independent study, showed that over half of the recommendations from the hit shows Dr. Oz or The Doctors have no evidence or worse, are contradicted by the best available medical evidence. Dr. Phil (who has never practiced medicine) routinely uses his show to promote a telemedicine App for which he is a large investor, and buries a disclosure about his investment in the business at the end of his show. Other television doctors rarely provide such disclosures.

Which brings us to the hot medical story of the day, "Three Parent Babies approved in the UK" a sexy and sensational headline that feeds off our distrust of the medical system. The truth is far less exciting (but still interesting and potentially life changing for patients in need). Allowing mitochondrial transfer from oocytes is no more the creation of three parent babies, than does a kidney or bone marrow transplant add to the parental lineage of its recipient. But nuance and science don't generate hits or viewers, so instead media outlets call a new procedure making "three parent babies," rather than an intriguing but experimental attempt to improve the health of human eggs (oocytes).

When will we learn that Americans love science can handle meaningful and nuanced medical information? We need an engaging platform that can bring cutting edge and important medical breakthroughs to patients without scary headlines or sensational claims. In my opinion, Sanjay Gupta comes closest, the others are entertaining, but more often miss the mark. We are still waiting for our physician counterpart to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who made physics cool and accessible to millions.

We need to re-engage Americans and win back their trust in science, evidence based medicine, and our medical system so they don't fear life saving treatments like vaccines. Describing doctors making, "Three Parent Babies" fosters skepticism about those dedicated to fighting to cure and prevent disease.