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New crowdsourcing site could create legal problems for patients

If you've ever visited a site looking for answers regarding a medical condition, you may have noticed a disclaimer stating that the site does not provide medical advice or that it is not intended to be a substitute for a medical professional. In most cases, this is listed for liability reasons.

But what happens if a site is designed to give medical advice? Could it contain the same disclaimer or are the people giving medical advice risking liability in the event of a misdiagnosis? This is the particularly challenging question that a new crowdsourcing website could raise in states across the nation, including here in Arizona.

Called CrowdMed, the site utilizes a community of people to deliver answers to patients with medical conditions that have not been diagnosed yet. Although the site's owner vouches for the credibility of the answer-giving community, which is mostly comprised of medical students and retired physicians, it begs the question: could those giving advice be held liable if the diagnosis is wrong or leads to serious or fatal injuries?

Though a legal disclaimer, such as the one above, could afford some protection in civil litigation, the absence of such a statement could be problematic for a doctor or med student on the site. And because of how the site works -- patients give rewards to the person or people who deliver the "right" diagnosis -- it opens the situation up to legal issues some state laws might not be equipped to handle.

As we can see in the case of O'Rourke v. Nakamura, et al., a patient or their family may seek compensation from a medical professional for giving bad advice, even if that advice was given outside of the exam room. Whether it results in compensation for the victim is up to the courts to decide, but situations such as this and those that CrowdMed create, do raise questions about liability -- questions that may be difficult to answer without legal help.

Sources: Medical Daily, "Crowdsource Your Medical Diagnosis? CrowdMed Bets On Long-Sick Patients Desperate For Help," Susan Scutti, July 1, 2014, "Legal risks for giving free medical advice," Bonnie Booth, March 31, 2006

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