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Physicians And Open Source Health Advice

Last week someone posted on Twitter that they had swallowed a plastic toothpick. What to do? So they turned to the hive for help. “What should I do?” I thought as I read my Twitter feed. I was paralyzed in a way. I wanted to share my experience with hundreds of patients had swallowed pins, toothpicks and other pointy things. I specialize in just this sort of thing. But short of a random comment about gastric emptying, I kept to myself. Why? Because once I lend a hand I’m all in.

The simple offer of patient-specific advice constitutes a relationship in the eyes of the law. Once involved, I potentially share responsibility in whatever happens to someone. Crazy but true. It’s just a matter of time before slip-and-fall lawyers hold physicians accountable for helping out in the social sphere.

Doctors aren’t the only ones wearing targets.

In the virtual land grab to get a piece of the chronically ill we’ve witnessed the growth of a cottage industry composed of alternative providers. I suspect that well-insured health sites providing safe harbor for mavens, disease experts, gurus, advisors and other self-anointed authorities will at some point feel the sting of the trial bar.

Attorneys and gurus aside, health professionals need to worry about doing the very best for those looking for help.

Here’s a thought: Unless a practitioner has the critical details of someone’s current complaint, a complete history, record of medications/allergies, a medium by which crystal-clear communication can be exchanged and a reproducible record where it can all be recorded, it’s risky and potentially irresponsible to offer passing medical advice.

That’s the kind of advocacy you won’t hear much about.

The heady exuberance of open source medical advice will play itself out. The market’s never wrong. Good, responsible care, however, will never go out of style.

And one last thing: What if you know I read about the toothpick and failed to lend a hand? Let’s not go there…

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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