Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines/Medical advice

The Wikipedia reference desk is not an appropriate place to request medical, legal or other professional advice, including any kind of medical diagnosis or prognosis. Questions that appear to be soliciting medical advice, or responses that appear to provide such, should be dealt with as described below. At the very least, responses to questions soliciting medical advice should link to Wikipedia:Medical disclaimer.


All reference desk editors are volunteer contributors who are subject to existing Wikipedia guidelines, which specifically state that Wikipedia is not to be used or relied upon for professional advice (see Wikipedia:General disclaimer and more specifically Wikipedia:Medical disclaimer). The purpose is to avoid doing harm to readers by advising them on medical issues—either because the advice is potentially dangerous or because it may discourage them from seeing a medical professional. Therefore medical advice must not be given by respondents, and should not be requested.

Respondents can answer general factual questions about medicine and medical conditions, taking special care to base our responses on reliable sources, but these facts must not be construed to apply to any particular individual for purposes of diagnosis or treatment.

The same applies to legal advice. Even if general information on the law can be provided, advice regarding a particular case is not acceptable. Law is full of exceptions and strange interactions, and, furthermore, depends on the jurisdiction where the events took place.

What does this guideline apply to?

Any question that solicits a diagnosis, a prognosis, or a suggested treatment, or any response that provides them, is considered inappropriate for the reference desk.

Note that questions may be about a medical topic ('What is sleep apnea?', for example) without necessarily seeking medical advice, and this is acceptable.

Distinguishing between what is and what is not acceptable

The difference between what is and what is not acceptable has to do with both the response and the question. If a complete answer to the question may be given without interpretation of the condition of any actual person, there is no problem. If an interpretation of an actual person's condition is necessary for a complete answer, the question is asking for some form of diagnosis or treatment advice, which is not appropriate.

Suppose the following question is asked:

 NI have a persistent cough. Can that be caused by heartburn? Questioner 23:59, 31 December 2000 (UTC)

Although we can learn from the articles Cough and Heartburn that in some patients heartburn is a causative factor, there is no article in Wikipedia that states that specifically this questioner's cough may be caused by heartburn. The question cannot be answered completely without interpretation of the condition of questioner, and should be dealt with as discussed below.

However, suppose instead the following question is asked:

 YIs heartburn a common cause of a persistent cough? Questioner 23:59, 31 December 2000 (UTC)

It is possible that this questioner has a persistent cough and heartburn, but the question is merely asking for statistical information found in Cough and Heartburn. Therefore, it is acceptable to answer this question as long as the response does not attempt to diagnose or suggest treatment for the questioner. For example, it is not permitted to answer this question with:

 NI've had heartburn with my cough. You should try drinking warm honey. It works great! Respondent 00:00, 1 January 2001 (UTC)

Dealing with questions asking for medical advice

Generally speaking, responses are more likely to be sanctioned than questions. The purpose is to minimise disruption: editors may disagree over whether a question is seeking medical advice, and removing the whole question is discouraging for new contributors. Therefore, most of the time, the responsibility lies with responders not to give medical advice, regardless of the question.

When answering a question that appears to be soliciting medical advice, outright removal of the question is discouraged. It is preferable to add a link to Wikipedia:Medical disclaimer, and answer by giving information, such as links to articles. The first response in particular should advise the person to seek a qualified professional. Subsequent responses must never bring this advice into question, and should reiterate it if there is any doubt. No response should attempt to focus on the particular questioner's problem. This can mean rewording the question. The purpose is to provide the questioner with information, but to make it clear that we cannot answer the question in terms of their particular symptoms.

Any response that provides medical advice, whether the question sought it or not, should be removed, or at least {{collapse}}d, and an explanation should be given along with a link to Wikipedia:Medical disclaimer. But before removing a response, please first make sure the response indeed rises to the level of proscribed medical advice as described in the preceding sections. When removing or collapsing medical advice, it is often sufficient to simply add "Medical advice removed" in place of the response, but a fuller explanation can also be given. Furthermore, as a courtesy, it may be appropriate to inform the person on their talk page why their response was removed.

Although removal of questions is discouraged, if this is done, please follow the procedure below:

  1. Remove the question and any responses given so far. In their place, insert a neutral boilerplate message (such as {{RD-deleted}}) pointing to the appropriate section of the reference desk guidelines. You may wish to sign the message or provide additional information about why the question was removed, although this is not required. The section header should usually be left intact unless it contains the question or a substantial part of it, in which case it may be desirable to change it. Also, note the removal of the question by posting the diff on the talk page of the Reference desk.
  2. Consider leaving a note on the user talk page of the person who posted the question, explaining that we cannot offer medical advice. This may be accomplished using a suitable template (such as {{subst:RD medremoval}}) or a personalized message. Encourage the poster to direct their medical questions to their physician, pharmacist, parents, or guardian. Where appropriate, offer links to suitable resources. This may include internal wikilinks or external websites. Be extremely careful not to offer a diagnosis in this way. If the poster has identified their place of residence, contact information for local health professionals or hotlines may be provided.

When in doubt

  • If a question arises as to whether or not medical advice was sought or given, any party (poster, responder, or third party) may post the material in question on the reference desk talk page for review and discussion.
  • If the consensus is that the given response constitutes medical advice, the response in question will be removed immediately. During this process, responders are strongly encouraged to suggest ways to rephrase responses (their own or others') to present useful information without offering a diagnosis or other medical advice.

See also

External links

  • Katy Ellen Deady. "Cyberadvice: The ethical implications of giving professional advice over the Internet" The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Spring 2001.
  • Harry Burns Hutchins. " What Is the Practice of Medicine?". Michigan Law Review 4 (1906): 373–9.
  • Lloyd Paul Stryker (1932). Courts and Doctors. Beard Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-893122-73-4.