"I know you aren't my Dr., but..." Why?

It seems like every time anyone here starts a thread about anything medically-related, the tired old “I know you aren’t my Dr., and I’m not seeking medical advice…but” disclaimers get trotted out before the story begins. Why? In essence, medical advice is exactly what is being sought (many times at least) and every-single-person reading the thread knows that. Why else would the thread have been started to begin with?

Is there actually some law/board rule being cleverly averted by typing these repititions before any thread containing medical advice? It just seems tiresome and boring to read that same stuff over and over again, and if I am seeing it unnecessarily; ehh all the worse. We’re all adults here.

No doctor wants a doctor/patient relationship established by posting a response. They do that because they intend to offer general information about the question, not diagnose or treat a board member via a post. Wise precaution I think.


I don’t know if internet advice can be deemed to establish a physician-patient relationship but I wouldn’t want to put it front of a jury.

That would be the Handy Rule, named after a former user who was the World’s Foremost Authority About Everything Medical. As I recall, he got banned for repeatedly giving out bad medical advice, despite many warnings.

Yeah, it’s just a wise statement to include if you don’t want licensed/insured professionals to be somewhat reluctant to respond to your query. Otherwise, their technically correct response would pretty much always be nothing more than, “you should consult a professional.”

On an anonymous Internet board like this one? C’mon.

Either someone has actually been sued, or someone is worried they’d be sued. In either case, I would thin the lawsuit is a joke. However, people have been sued over less, I suppose. I’m just not sure how they would track down the supposed doctor out here.

Even if I put some identifying info in my post

PO BOX 12345
Boston, Mass. 02134.

You would drill have a hard time finding the dr. If the person is indeed a doctor. And what kind of idiot would do something from a suggestion on a website? If they do and die, isn’t that just natural selection?

EX. I have bad acne… What do I do?

Ans: Well, if I were you, I’d dip my head in gasoline, have someone set it aflame, and have another
friend put it out with a rake. That has worked evey time I’ve seen it done! Is it really necessary to put IANAD? I think my post is rather obvious.

There’s been worry before, and talk about, actually prohibiting threads asking for medical and legal information or “advice” completely. At one point, Creative Loafing - the then owners of The Straight Dope Message Board - was concerned that they, not a poster, might be sued if a post containing potentially harmful or ineffective suggestion were made and someone actually followed it. Or so the scuttlebutt went.

Whether any website has been sued over bad advice before is something I just don’t know, so I can’t speak as to whether it’s a realistic concern or not. Putting in very specific disclaimers has become something of an unspoken compromise, or at least that’s how I use it. I’m willing to make a halfhearted attempt to cover their ass if it keeps the lawyers happy.

Plus, yeah…I’m a nurse. I’m not *your *nurse. I can speak in generalities but I can’t speak to your case with any certainty. Nursing requires hands-on assessment for most things; I can’t tell you if what you have is a boil, but I can link you to pictures of boils, tell you the most common treatments for boils and pros and cons of each. I’m honest about whether I think you should seek medical attention; I don’t automatically say so, because I don’t think it’s always necessary, and I know it’s often not realistic, given the state of healthcare access in the US. It’s nice when an OP posts an acknowledgement of that and saves me the effort of posting the disclaimers, especially since I often put fairly significant effort into my responses as it is.

I am not an Official Board Historian. Nothing in the post should be taken as advice or dogma, or as the opinion of The Straight Dope Message Boards, its heirs, thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, nor a few total dipsticks.

Because some people want some decent advice but want to make it well know they won’t sue somebody who is trying to help them (even if it goes bad) and are nice enough to give some internet “verbal legalese” to make that at least somewhat apparent that that is the case.

Sueing people who are trying to help you. Who woulda thunk it something worth worrying about?

Also, there’s always that asshole who just yells at you to go to the doctor rather than answering the question, and this helps short circuit that response. Same as “I’m already going to my doctor, but I’m curious what you think.”

It was formerly our practice to close any threads asking for medical or legal advice. More recently, we have allowed such threads in IMHO, but not GQ, to emphasize the fat that advice provided in such threads is opinion, and cannot be regarded as reliable factual advice.

Free advice on the internet is worth exactly what you pay for it.:wink:

  1. Despite any threat of a lawsuit, the disclaimer is important so readers understand that they are not receiving actual medical/legal advice/opinions.

  2. By putting it in the OP every post doesn’t have to include this disclaimer.

  3. It eliminates redundant posts telling an OP they shouldn’t rely on any advice given here and talk to actual professional before acting.

  4. Knowledgeable professionals won’t be hesitant to post because their advise/opinion/information based on limited information won’t be mistaken for a professional consultation.

Knowledgeable professionals will not actually provide advice in threads seeking advice because we are aware of the consequences both to us professionally and legally and to the asker, who might suffer after acting on incorrect advice provided because of an insufficient understanding of the true facts. (Because the asker might not understand precisely what facts are important and therefore will leave out something that the professional needs to know. In the informal setting of a messageboard the professional cannot do the investigation that he could in a true client or patient relationship.)

Therefore sometimes in threads seeking professional advice, a knowledgeable professional will comment – not giving specific advice but general ideas for further research, better understanding, or just a topic to bring up with their doctor or lawyer or whatever. When we do that those of us who are conscientious inevitably make sure to give significant disclaimers and qualifiers so that the asker and any observers understand that this is not advice, and isn’t based on the full and confident knowledge of the facts that would be necessary in an actual professional situation.

Posters asking for this type of advice have seen these threads before and the qualified answers that are given. Therefore in an effort to ward off what they incorrectly see as superfluous verbiage, they include the qualifiers themselves in the original post. But that should not stop the professional from offering necessary qualifiers in a response.

By the way although I frequently participate in legal threads, I’m generally not in favor of allowing people to ask professional queries on the board. It self selects for poor advice because the more precise and real-world the question, and the more obviously serious the consequence, the more likely the truly knowledgeable professional is going to back off for fear of steering someone in the wrong direction – someone who’s in a serious situation and prepared to act on the advice that they receive. So we shut up while the chumps who don’t know anything are happy to continue spouting off.


So I want to sue Billfish678; how do I go about doing that, exactly? :confused:

Sue for what? Is there any type of professional relationship established? Lawyers and doctors can be legally accountable for giving their opinion, Billfish cannot.

Clearly, the right person to answer this would be someone who is “not a lawyer”.

The owners of the Straight Dope Message Board don’t make any significant amount of money from it. They probably only make a little more than their costs of keeping it going. If they were sued by someone who was hurt by taking dangerous advice from a post, the cost of defending themselves in court could be more than they ever made from the board. By using due diligence by deleting threads with dangerous advice and banning posters who give dangerous advice, they have some protection against such lawsuits.

Don’t kid yourself. The owners of the board aren’t saints who are so enamored of its existence that they will keep it going if they think that they will lose a lot of money on it. If they are ever in a position where they are sued and it looks like either they will lose the case or they will have to spend a lot of money defending themselves, they will immediately shut down the board. They will then sue you if you attempt to re-establish a board that claims to be the successor of the SDMB.

Basically every doctor in America (perhaps other countries, too, I’m not sure).

Hire a law firm. They could be probably find out who he is in about a week or two.

You shouldn’t believe scuttlebutt; more often than not it’s wildly incorrect.

As in this case.

Staff has always felt uncomfortable with the dispensation of medical advice. People write in asking the damndest questions, sometimes in situations where they maybe shouldn’t even be on the internet at all but on the way to a medical facility to be seen by a real life professional.

Not only that but people who are medical experts, legal experts, etc., they shouldn’t be expected to automatically be on call to answer every question. If they choose to speak to an issue that’s fine, but again, we don’t want to create an expectation that they should or that they must, or that this the place you go to get such questions routinely answered.

We don’t want to encourage that in any way.

Can’t say it enough: ** Nothing you read on this site should ever take the place of competent real life consultation. **

Well sure, competent

Just a minor addition to what’s been said, and emphasizing a point made by WhyNot. Not just posting on the boards, but people write in to Cecil all the time asking for some sort of medical advice: “I’ve got this red swelling on my arm, what is it?” Legal issues aside, how can anyone answer that without SEEING the sore? … and not just a photo taken with crappy lighting from a cellphone camera. On a website, the professional responding can only answer with generalities about the 400 things it MIGHT be. A face-to-face consultation allows the doctor/nurse to ask important questions (Did you bump into anything recently? Have you taken any new medications? etc) and to SEE the damn thing to eliminate 350 possibilities, and perhaps to run tests.

Similarly with legal or tax advice. An expert on the SDMB could answer with generalities or can quote the law, but without knowing the other critical details or circumstances, any such “advice” is pretty much useless generality.