Possible Liability Concerns – Social Media Proliferation into Treatment

Nursing and doctors side by side

Doctors in hospital hallway

For many diseases, there’s a litany of research for doctors to rely on. Dozens if not hundreds of case studies can help inform decisions on how to treat patients. Various course of treatment and specialized drugs can be extremely useful when needed, but many of the limitations are handicapped by rarity. The rarer the disease, the more sparse the scholarly literature can be and the fewer medical treatments available. For many physicians, more informal advice is needed to treat patients. This can be especially pressing if the patient in question is in serious or deteriorating condition.

Even Doctors are Using the WWW for Info Now

Many doctors do what others readily do: turn to the internet. There are often unofficial resources that circulate the web that coincide with the situation the doctor is in. With such issues sometimes meaning life or death, doctors often turn to such informal sources. Many doctors and those in the medical profession become part of online forums meant to discuss and survey issues in their line of work. Many are able to understand similarities in their various situations and utilize similar strategies.

However, since the conversations in such informal setting are not peer reviewed or properly conducted in a clinical setting, there are many factors that can go wrong. Many causes can be confused with correlation, and the difference paid by the patient. There is a particular importance in being careful in such a setting, which occasionally gets thrown out the window.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the situation, finding that such conditions are not uncommon. Many issues are simply googled and followed down the rabbit hole. Without such a controlled environment, the key differences between cases can lead to serious injury or even death.

So when a doctor bases their policy on what they find online and the patient is worse for it, who is ultimately responsible? Many forums and posters state that they are not ultimately liable for their statements or that they are simply putting information out for the readers’ edification.

The decision to use such information ultimately rests with the physician — as should the responsibility. Don’t be surprised if over the next decade the number of doctors sued for taking their advice online increases radically.¬†Perhaps the WSJ article said it best: “But to call it data is not really fair…There is a lot of misinformation in the blogosphere.”

Author: nursingethicsnetwork