I’d like to constructively figure out a way we can answer users that have reasonable medical or injury related questions.

One of the biggest problems in the medical and fitness industries is the lack of quality information and understanding. It’s easy to go into CYA mode, close the question and say go see a professional. And there are definitely times that’s what should be done.

However, when I see users asking for advice after a question is closed “how they can make their questions sound vague so they can get answers” - it puts things in perspective.

There are people that likely don't know where else to go. WebMD thinks every symptom is cancer or AIDs and it's tough to Google something when you don't know much about it. I don’t think a canned statement is the answer. It’d be great if everyone could just go see or call a Dr. but that’s obviously not always an option.

There’s a difference between someone posting a question if they should let their son play tennis and how to keep him safe vs someone asking why they’re waking up in a pool of sweat with random sharp pains.

I respect what is attempting to be done and understand the motivate, but there has to be a better way...

1 Answer 1


I'm an emt with a few other certs and training, and work for an emergency medical team in my county. For me, on the Internet I feel comfortable talking about typical exercise related health issues but there's a line when you get to diagnosing that I wouldn't cross.

Personally I worry about medical liability as would anyone with any sort of official medical training, which are the very people you'd want commenting the most. So the bulk of the respondents to health questions will end up being the least trained. I can't imagine a physician or nurse tossing around medical advice because it really does open them up to malpractice. Their medical license is how they put food on the fridge and pay the mortgage so they're understandably gun shy. Another aspect is that (if they've been working long enough) they've made mistakes which have costs people their lives and that breeds in a lot of humility or at least a desire to only make decisions when you need to and you have enough information to effectively do so.

I can talk about what I know, but even an answer I gave to some guy about DOMS (that I still believe to be right) to me crosses the line of me saying "I took your signs and symptoms and told you your medical condition."

As maddening as the constant "go to the doctor" drum beat is, unpacking that a little more "go to the doctor" means:

  • Talk to someone (doctor, nurse practitioner, etc) who is licensed to practice medicine.
  • Be in a setting where they can review your medical history, allergies, signs (vitals included), symptoms, and have ready access to things like blood analysis and imaging.
  • Be in a care setting where you can be quickly routed to a different practitioner.

Back to my DOMS answer, I've never diagnosed exertional rhabdomyolysis or even seen a patient with it so really who I am to tell that guy what he has DOMS when exertional rhabdomyolysis can result in full renal failure? I nearly cost a guy his foot one time when I waited too long to traction him and relieve pressure on a neurovascular bundle (multiple compound fractures in the ankle and gross deformity). It was luck, not skill, that saved him from a life with one foot and that lessons got cored into my head.

So I'm not sure what the answer is on here. I just now that I'm not an expert and I feel that people with more knowledge and capability than me would be even less prone to providing medical advice without the tools and time they need to do it properly. The cost of screwing up is just way too high.

Edit / Follow Up:

Maybe it's the Internet culture, where we can stream in 4k, read tweets from the president in real time, and get a date in 5 minutes via tinder when "go to the doctor" just seems like such an archaic and non-modern way of doing things. Like if we can have amazon prime and tell some button on the fridge to order more milk why can't I go on the Internet and figure out what this rash is?

Maybe something someday will handle this, but as a really-low-on-the-rung medical provider my experience has taught me that you need people in front of you that you can touch and establish a relationship with. Anything else and I feel like the chances of harm get higher and higher.

  • 1
    There's a fundamental issue that the people who can give good answers are the people trained in such matters and the people who are trained in such matters are discouraged from posting because of liability.
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 18:55
  • @SeanDuggan I would say liability for sure but even if it was legally fine I still don't want to be the guy saying "don't worry, it's a cold, you'll be fine" when he really has some insane tropical infection and I was the guy who kept him from seeing proper medical care.
    – Eric
    Jul 24, 2017 at 19:00
  • And on the flipside, when you're used to seeing zebras, it's hard not to think of that when you hear hoofbeats, so you wind up with oddly schizophrenic answers of "Well, the most likely case is DOMS. Alternately, this could be the result of kidney failure. More rarely, it's possible that you've got early symptoms of malaria. Of course, there's always the possibility that it's lupus..."
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 19:07
  • We also hashed this out on Health, where there is a preponderance of MD's. You might feel comfortable diagnosing people over the internet without a physical exam, but that's not a liability road that many people are willing to walk down. If you want to do that, chat is freely available.
    – JohnP Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 21:30
  • @SeanDuggan - I have seen real life cases of misdiagnosed injuries that ended up costing athletic careers. I personally don't want to take that chance. It could sound exactly like shin splints and turn out to be a hairline fracture or similar that ends up being much worse for the misdiagnosis.
    – JohnP Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 21:31
  • @JohnP: Eyeh, although in that case, we'd might as well close down things like the Gardening Stack Exchange or Home Improvement. After all, it's far too easy to misidentify a plant that turns out to be poisonous, or to say that it sounds like the rheometer's broken and it turns out they have a short in their wall. I think there's room for conditional medical advice.
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 21:36
  • @SeanDuggan - If you want to debate the site policy, put in a meta question stating that you think it is reasonable to allow medical advice, feel free. People can debate the merits of it, and if they think it is a justifiable change of site policy, it can be changed. I can tell you first hand (I am a mod on Health as well) that we went over this topic very carefully on Health, and MD's were of the opinion that personal advice was off topic. Again, if you want to offer advice, chat is freely available and unmoderated.
    – JohnP Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 21:41
  • @JohnP: I'm not really that invested in it. :) But isn't this meta question essentially about questioning that policy, or at least figuring out the bounds?
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Jul 24, 2017 at 21:53

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