Legal implications of free medical advice over the internet.

Asked about 2 years ago - Santa Monica, CA

I'm a licensed psychiatrist and I am thinking of dispensing free general mental health advice to the public over twitter. I am wondering if I can be taken to court in case someone follows my advice for the wrong problem and something goes wrong.

And secondly, there are people who ask me specific questions about their psychiatric problem on twitter, publicly. If I answer them, would it be considered as a patient-doctor relationship and can my advice be used as evidence of providing care in a malpractice suit (if someone takes it to such an extreme)?

In short, I am thinking of doing something like this website but in my profession in the interests of the people as a service but without getting myself into harm. Also, with twitter, there is no place to add a "legal disclaimer".

Thank you.

Additional information

Reading the answers by Ms. Goldstein, Ms. Sinclair, Mr. Gold, Mr. Poulson and Mr. Stiteler make me realize I did not come off the right way.

To clarify, I do not intend to run an online practice. It is just that I am quite well-known in my field and a lot of people on twitter know who I am. They keep asking me questions pertaining to my profession (more mental health than outright psychiatry though), I keep ignoring them and I feel bad that I am not helping them when I can. I am certain I can give them general medical advice pertaining to their question without going into the specifics of the case in 140 characters.

My question is whether or not such an advice would be classified as a "physician curbside consult" or would be considered a "doctor-patient relation" and hence make me liable. I definitely would not want to risk my license but if I "can" help those people seeking my help take the first step towards better mental health without any liability, I would like to do it.

Attorney answers (5)

  1. 9

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Why would you risk your license by dispensing what you term advice? Have you not seen all the disclaimers here and on other sites where professionals offer suggestions? This is not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship has been established. Likewise, you should not dispense advice either. If this is a sincere question, you should consult directly with a lawyer and not rely on an online Q&A forum.

    Avvo had a medical section but I believe it has been sold. You probably can find it and participate there. Your "suggestions" would be protected by their disclaimers. The goal is to minimuze your risk, not increase it.

  2. 5

    Lawyers agree

    Best Answer
    chosen by asker

    Answered . In addition to the very good comments of the other attorneys, you should be aware that you might be considered to be practicing tele-medicine in those states in which the individuals live to whom you are giving this advice. You could run into significant licensure issues in that some of these states, which in turn could jeopardize your license in the state in which you practice.

    In other words, 'Here be Dragons.'

    I am licensed in New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and therefore any discussion of issues related to other states must... more
  3. 7

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . The suggestion that you can effectively tweet anything of value casts suspicion on your sincerity. Assuming you are, you should consider drawing a bright line between advice and information, as most of us do here on legal Avvo. Then, as a question of marketing, you would need to consider whether you have anything fresh or unique or valuable that is not already available online. The legal exposure is one large consideration, but one of several.

    Best wishes for a favorable outcome, and please remember to designate a best answer.

    This answer is offered as a public service for general information only and may not be relied upon as legal advice.
  4. 5

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . MY colleagues are correct. Avvo 's medical forum is now under Healthtap. You may want to review their system to see if you are comfortable there. Otherwise, you spent a lot of time and money in school to put your profession at risk on Twitter.

    ** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ** My response above is not legal advice and it does not establish an attoreny-client... more
  5. 6

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . I agree with my learned colleague that you should consult with your attorney. If you can be a psychitrist in 140 characters, you should write a novel with that theme!

    We do not have a client/attorney relationship until you make an appointment, we discuss your case face to face, I... more
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