Want to keep COVID-19 from darkening your doorstep?
In India, you can stand in a circle, clap your hands, and chant “Go Corona Go!” Or drink a glass of cow urine. Either one should help.
In Nairobi, knocking back a shot of Henessey will cure it.
In Brazil, take a day off to fast and pray. That’ll do it.
In the U.S., hydroxychloroquine does the trick. Or you can sip a little Clorox.
By now, you should be a little skeptical.
The coronavirus is the latest in a long line of medical maladies that bring self-proclaimed “healers” and “experts” out in droves and squarely on prime-time. Experts, fueled by claims of medical degrees, divine power, or other “knowledge,” are out hawking products and methods to people who are scared—and gullible.
Quacks have been around for centuries; they just moved from selling out of the back of a wagon to the Internet. Some of them, as in the case of America’s Frontline Doctors, have even managed to get themselves licensed and on national television.
The problem is this: It’s not even the idea of taking your money that’s bad. It’s that some of these “cures” can actually make you sick. Unfortunately, these cures go viral and spread like wildfire, often because the experts are so convincing or because they tell you what you want to hear. For example, the claim by Houston-licensed Dr. Stella Immanuel last week regarding hydroxychloroquine: the video went viral before it was discovered that the good doctor had some questionable conspiracy and medical theories that should have made people just a little skeptical about her credibility.
Medical professionals were scared too. “I was incredibly fearful for the health of those people who would trust her for two reasons: Her thinking agreed with their own, and they were looking to a medical professional to substantiate their own beliefs,” said physician Lydia Kang in a recent Huffington Post interview.
“It’s very depressing how easily Americans bought into Immanuel’s message even knowing her history of bizarre claims,” said David H. Gorski, a surgical oncologist and professor of surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine.
How to Spot a Quack
Quackery can come from anyone and anywhere, so how do know a quack is a quack—even if it’s your own doctor? Red flags to watch for include:
Someone who sells their own treatments and supplements. Not only is it a serious conflict of interest, unconventional medicines and supplements can be dangerous.
Their work is backed up by single-person testimony, or social media and/or TV endorsements. “Hey, Dr. Oz says it’s good!” Dr. Oz may be an Ivy-Leaguer, but in a 2004 study of 40 random Oz episodes, only 46 percent of his recommendations were based on scientific evidence. “Any doctor worth their salt should be citing peer-reviewed articles and scientific studies that rely on well-designed clinical trials, not patient anecdotes and their own personal experience,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
Beware of the “miracle cure.” If an “expert” promises a 100 percent (or some suspiciously high percentage) rate of success, watch out. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
He or she speaks in absolutes. Listen for phrases such as “I’m the only one who can help you.” and “All mainstream doctors have it wrong.” A solid medical professional should lay out the pros and cons before deciding on treatment.
My treatment didn’t work? It’s your fault. Since the person’s cure-all has worked on everyone else (according to them), it’s obviously your fault; you didn’t do everything he or she told you to do.
How Not to Pick a Quack
Before you jump on the any medical bandwagon, do your homework.
Check the ratings sites, but don’t believe everything. On the Yelp-like ratings sites, anyone can post a review on a healer or doctor, meaning they can stack the deck with recommendations from friends and family. The best place to check for ratings is on the websites of the medical institutions they work in, only patients can post and vote, and they can only do it one time.
Check the license. (You knew we were going to say that, right?) The Department of Consumer Affairs is home to 18 different medical/healthcare boards, from acupuncture to vocational nurses. Before you make an appointment, use DCA’s online search function to make sure he or she is legitimate.
Find out where they went to school. This is especially important for specialists; someone who says they are a specialist in plastic surgery need to be board-certified. Otherwise, be suspicious.
Do other doctors support their claims? Have their findings been published? Are they supported by their peers? Hearsay from laypeople is not enough.
Look up his or her social media accounts. Does he or she have a Facebook page? Twitter? Instagram? Check out what they’re posting; aside from personal posts (they are human, after all), if you see weird medical posts or ideas, think again.
What will cure coronavirus? The World Health Organization (WHO) says right now, nothing—but they, and the Centers for Disease Control, are working on it. “There are several ongoing clinical trials that include both western and traditional medicines,” WHO told Newsweek. “WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings are available.”
In the meantime, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay away from quacks and if you don’t know what it is, don’t drink it.