The Fine Line Between Blogging and Giving Medical Advice – or Why I Finally Wrote a Disclaimer

Just yesterday, I put up a post about the recent birth control pill recall. This recall is a big deal – millions of women are potentially impacted, and the adverse effect – an unplanned pregnancy – is very significant.

I knew women taking these pills would be very worried, and wanted very much to do more than just spit out the press release from the FDA. I wanted to both reassure women and give them information that they could use other than just a link and a phone number. I also needed to figure out  how I would be handing the recall in my own practice. So I combined the two and posted what I’ll be telling my patients to do if they find that they are taking a recalled pill pack.

As soon as the post went up, I got worried.

What if the advice I was giving my patients was not what other docs might do for their patients? What if patients misconstrued it, or had an individual situation that warranted some other approach ? (I couldn’t figure out what that might be, but that’s why it’s called individual.) What were the pharmacies and the pill manufacturers telling these women to do?

I knew that the advice I would be giving my patients was reasonable. The two weeks I was telling them to use backup contraception was double that recommended for women starting pills more than 3 days after their menses. The additional pregnancy tests I recommended were more than ample for detecting a pregnancy as early as possible, without leaving the chance that it was too early to be detected. This is bread and butter gynecology, folks. It’s what I do every day, and I can do it in my sleep. It’s no different than me telling women what they should do if they miss a pill in  pack. (Repeat after me -Take two the next day.)

But this just felt different. Probably because it is a unique situation for which there is no published consensus or package labeling. And because the whole scenario is ripe for lawsuits. It’s a birth control pill recall, for god’s sake.

I debated taking out the information about what I’ll be doing in my practice. But I’d be damned if this blog was going to turn into nothing more than a newsfeed. Where’s the value added that my readers get from me being a doctor? No. I was going to keep the post as it was. With one small change.

I made it very clear in the post that this was advice I was giving to my patients, not advice I was giving to my readers. And I told the readers to talk to their own doctor about what to do.

Most importantly, I finally did what every medical blogger should do, and what I should have done years ago on this blog. I wrote a disclaimer, and linked to it prominently, both in my navigation bar and on my “About” page.

Suddenly, I feel better.

If you’re a blogger, and don’t yet have a disclaimer, it’s time to write and post one. Here are a few links I found helpful in writing mine –

9 Responses to The Fine Line Between Blogging and Giving Medical Advice – or Why I Finally Wrote a Disclaimer

  1. It is such a shame that you have to worry about liability when offering information with the best intentions possible.

    I have recently blogged about dysfunctional family dynamics, which came to a boil with my mother’s death two weeks ago. It is not a pretty story and all of a sudden I am concerned about legal ramifications. Not personal ones, those are a done deal as I have now gone from Black Sheep to Complete Pariah, but I will explore what legalities I need to be aware of. I am not sure if a disclaimer is enough, but it suddenly seems like a really good idea for starters.

    • Marie –

      But I’m not worried anymore, now that I have my disclaimer!

      Blogging about family is a whole ‘nother stoy, I guess…For this area, I try to stick as much as I can to the rule “Don’t blog what you don’t own”, and always seek permission before blogging about anyone, patient or not. See my post about this issue here –

      http://www.tbtam.com/2006/01/the-dangers-of-blogging.html

      And you know what? If something is making you uncomfortable, then take the post down. It is your blog and should bring you joy not angst.

      Thanks for reading.

      Peggy

      • Peggy,

        Disclaimers. You and I can sleep at night and my lawyer son chuckles. lol

        Much food for thought indeed (no pun intended) in your blog post about writing about family &/or friends. After a few qualms, I have decided I am ok with my posts and am moving on.

        Two things:

        Boy, you have been blogging for a long time! How do you keep up the momentum? I really admire your diversity and many talents. 🙂

        And Jon Stewart! Be still my heart. Lives not too far from me here on the Jersey shore and ironically I had tickets reserved for Thursday the week my mother passed away. Gave them up of course. 🙁

  2. I’ve been reading your blog (and occasionally commenting) for a year or so. I love it. I’ve read through your archives, bookmarked recipes and forwarded a lot of really interesting, useful information to the women in my life.

    Your post on what to do about the recall is great, imo. I came here today looking for it (I meant to stop by earlier), actually. I wanted to see what you had to say because I trust your opinion. And that’s a decision I made based on countless articles and posts from you. I’m glad you have a disclaimer up because I wouldn’t want anyone to make a mess out of what I regard as a great blog.

    As far as what my pharmacy did: Called and said there was a packaging issue and if I wanted I could return the pack for a refund. That’s it. Packaging mistake? What does that mean? Refund? What about the rest of my pills? If I don’t bring them back, then what? My pharmacy left me completely confused. Only after a Google search did I understand the enormity of what “packaging issue” meant. I got a hold of the on call doctor for my practice and later the phone nurse for my practice. No one at the practice was aware of the recall. No one seemed particularly concerned about it, either (the final straw for me-in search of a new doc now).

    I hope that other women are getting better information from their pharmacies and their doctors. But, for those of us that have had a hard time figuring out what the heck is going on, I’m glad your blog is here and that you ARE willing to make it more than a newsfeed.

    Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for this. I am working on a blog topic concerning medicine and I was worried that someone would hold me responsible for taking my optional information. I knew I needed to protect myself as much as possible, but I just didn’t know the best ways to do so.

  4. “Reading this blog should be construed to mean that you and I have a patient-physican relationship. Therefore, I ask that you not ask me for medical advice, either in the comments or by email. I may delete such comments and accept no responsibility to respond to unsolicited email.”

    Um, shouldn’t your disclaimer say should NOT? And you really should know how to spell physician. Just sayin’. 🙂

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