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David Baxter

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Should Ordinary People Give Medical Advice Online?
by John Grohol
December 6, 2007

Wow is all I can say. When I came across this discussion on MetaTalk, the discussion site for an old community blogging site called MetaFilter, I was taken aback.

The discussion is about how "wrong" the people who responded to a request for opinions and advice about a mental health issue were. The post was written by a physician, naturally, who suggested there should be greater caution in people offering their opinions (and even diagnoses) on medical or mental health issues where they don't have a full and complete history.

Now, of course, on the face of it, this makes common sense. Nobody, not even doctors, like to go around offering their opinions about things on the basis of little information. But sometimes that's all we have to go on, and people just want some ideas.

I don't honestly think that at the end of 2007, anybody goes on to any "Ask" or Q&A site asking about a professional concern (whether it be medical, mental health, legal, plumbing, electrical, relationships, career, etc.) and not know that a lot of the responses they will receive will be non-professional and "from my own personal experience." That's one of the joys of Web 2.0 -- everyone can be and often is an expert.

Some communities, like Yahoo Answers, have built-in tools to help readers rate answers they feel best capture a legitimate and useful answer to the question posed. It is these kinds of tools, and not disclaimers or efforts to clamp down on answering mental health or medical advice questions, that are the future. Because people will always ask such questions, it's just a question of where they do it and whether such an environment can provide tools or options to make it a good, safe environment.
 

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That's one of the joys of Web 2.0

I for one have not experienced this particular "joy". What's Web 2.0?

With respect to medical information on the web, as we have frequently pointed out, one must be very cautious when reading claims from the sources a Google search will return for a given topic.

The credentials of the site must be understood, as well as the motivation of the site. Many sites offer biased information couched in scientific sounding terms, motivated by their own self interests to either sell a product or to further some agenda in favor or in opposition to the topic.

Now, take a venue such as Psychlinks, which is closely monitored by a dedicated volunteer staff to ensure the content posted complies with the high ethical standards set out in the Forum Rules.

If you have never read the Forum rules, take a few moments to appreciate the standards to which Psychlinks operates. Then compare these standards with other medical information sites you might visit.

The point is no one here will ever offer a diagnosis, or promote the use of any product, medication or mode of therapy but rather will provide you with information about the options you can discuss with your own doctor.

The other intention of Psychlinks is to provide support to people who may not have immediate access to support resources, wherever they may be, worldwide.

This is where Forum members can share their own experiences to provide insights to the person seeking support.

By providing insights, the person can be pointed in the right direction, so they can get the right kind of help in their own community.

So, IMO, yes, ordinary (lay) people can give medical help online, as long as they adhere to strict standards of ethics, similar to the ethical standards of medical professionals. To provide objective information, based on sound scientific principles and not be influences by self serving interests.

Of course all Psychlinks policies and standards are governed by Dr. David Baxter.
 

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