Vaporize him!One of the great things about the current state of electronic text is how much information and advice is available free on-line for the asking—concentrations of expertise in answer sites like Quora, as well as pre-published content available through search engines.

But when it comes to important matters such as medical advice, there’s an amazing amount of misinformation out there. It seems a lot more people enjoy giving medical advice than are really qualified to give it.

One problem is, when it comes to giving out advice, doctors are sadly underrepresented in social media. A CNet report explains that a number of commonly-held perceptions about doctors often limit their ability to participate.

Part of it is that doctors are reluctant to make medical pronouncements on patients about whom they know very little. (Reputable doctors, anyway—that didn’t stop one alleged physician from declaring Steve Jobs had weeks to live based on looking at a picture of his butt!) Also, doctors are worried that if they are seen posting a lot of comments on-line, it will look as if they aren’t paying enough attention to their jobs in real life. One doctor who ceased blogging about his daily practice explained:

"I took a lot of heat from it among doctors, old doctors, and I actually stopped doing it because I thought I’d rather blog about the health care industry rather than what I was doing in my practice," [Dr. Jay] Parkinson told CNET. He also said that a doctor with a social-media presence may be more exposed to scrutiny from state authorities with the power to revoke a medical license. "Doctors are guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the state. It has nothing to do with malpractice or anything like that…It’s your life on the line; it’s your livelihood."

As much spurious medical advice as there is floating around on-line, though, it would be good if doctors could find a way to balance their professional obligations with social media. Though nothing is going to prevent people from cherry-picking the advice they want in any event.


  1. My dad works in the financial industry, and he says much the same thing–that since he is a licensed professional, anything he says can and will be used against him in court. If he were just some schmoe, then he’d be immune from liability.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail