How bad can health reporting get?

A couple of years ago, a number of us raised concerns about an “investigative reporter” at a Detroit television station.  At the time I noted that investigative reporters serve an important role in a democracy, but that they can also do great harm, as when Channel 7’s Steve Wilson parroted the talking points of the anti-vaccine movement.  Wilson has since been canned but apparently, not much has changed.  While performing my evening ablutions, I stumbled upon the latest abomination.

The story is about a surgeon turned faith healer.  I can think of about a half-dozen different ways to make an interesting story out of this.  But Channel 7, rather than doing the harder but more interesting story about the chicanery of faith healers, presented an infomercial.

Dr. Issam Nemeh claims to be a surgeon and anesthesiologist.  I don’t know how much he charges for that sort of work, but he charges twenty dollars a ticket for his faith healing services.  The deceptions used by faith healers have been well-documented elsewhere but one of their methods, like all altmed folks, is to claim to have cured a self-limited condition.  One of the conditions whose improvement the reporter credited to Nemeh was optic neuritis.  The report incorrectly calls optic neuritis a form of multiple sclerosis.  Optic neuritis is a common manifestation of MS, but it is also common in isolation.  In either case, it often improves spontaneously or with medication.  Like many alternative medicine gurus, Nemeh can take advantage of the natural history of a disease by taking credit for its natural remission.

And he is an altmed guru, not some conventional doc with a religious streak.  In addition to his faith-healing business, Issam runs a medical practice.  The news report calls him a “certified” surgeon, anesthesiologist, and acupuncturist.  I’m not sure what that means.  He is licensed to practice medicine by the state of Ohio.  He is not, however, certified by any board listed by the American Board of Medical Specialties.  But a medical license lets you treat  just about anything, and according to the first hit on google, that’s just what he does, offering treatment to “all patients with any type of physical, mental or emotional disorder.”  This includes children.  Dr. Nemeh offers two types of treatments: “meridian regulatory acupuncture” (tranlation:  “some impossible, lucrative needle thing that suckers will pay out of pocket for”) and faith healing (translation: “some impossible, lucrative talky thing that suckers will pay out of pocket for”).  He may be licensed to practice medicine, and Ohio may recognize acupuncture as something “medical”, but in the educated opinion of this internist, what he does has nothing to do with the practice of medicine.

Nemeh is a shaman.  He uses the smoke and mirrors of some sort of acupuncture machine on any condition in any patient.  This is a hallmark of quackery—claiming that one modality can treat anything, when really, it’s most efficient effect is to remove money from the pockets of its victims.  But Nemeh is pretty damned cleaver.   Some folks like modern-sounding shamanism, with its needles hooked up to bells, whistles, and pretty lights.  But others prefer that old time religion, and Nemeh’s got that covered with his faith heeling business.

I have rarely seen such an efficient combination of modern and ancient healthcare thievery (in, of course, my humble opinion).   And despite the execrable nature of TV health reporting, I have never seen such a credulous infomercial presented as news.

Shame on you Dr. Nemeh, and shame on you Channel 7.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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