Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Guidelines/Medical advice

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I have a persistent cough. Can that be caused by heartburn?[edit]

I disagree with this implication that this section of the guideline represents the consensus. If you look at the last few years of discussion on the RD talk page, you will see that there is absolutely no form of consensus to support this section. While one person may rearrange the words to turn it into "Can MY cough...", it is just as valid for another person to rearrange it into "Can ANYONE'S cough..." That is why there is no consensus. I've tried, without any success, to get a consensus here, but nobody is willing to discuss things. I expect this attempt will be met solely with one person demanding that the absolute only way any sane person can read the question is as a request for medical advice. Then, another person will demand that the only way that any sane person can read it is as a request for medical information. No discussion or consensus will be reached yet again. -- kainaw 13:35, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

I have before flagged the addition of this test[1]. Thus far no one but you has indicated disagreement. It is not clear to me from what you write whether you only disagree with this section representing consensus, or also with the test itself. Of course it cannot be ruled out that a questioner may attempt to disguise a person-bound request for medical advice as a question for information that is not person-bound. However, that is not what questioners do. If the question as posed is person-bound, it is a request for medical advice. I know that some "anti-deletionist" regulars who are fond of lawyering and of answering such questions have argued that a questioner may rephrase the question in such a way that the fact it is a request for medical advice is disguised – so that we would be fooled into answering it – and that therefore it is not actually a request for medical advice and may be answered. I reject that as sophistry.
At the moment I see perhaps more of an overeagerness to remove informational questions as being requests for professional advice than the other way around. The test in the section is meant to work two ways.
If you know of a question that in your opinion was correctly removed but that passes the test, or, conversely, a question that was removed but shouldn't have been and that fails the test, please tell us what they are, so that the test may be refined.  --Lambiam 14:26, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
My disagreement with the section is that it may be used to strengthen an argument for removing any request for information that anyone may ask. For example, "I have a headache. Does aspirin or hydrocortisone help stop headaches?" According to this guideline, that is a request for medical advice even though the person is truly asking about the medical properties of aspirin. This can be stretched even further down the slippery slope to "I just fell down the stairs and I'm bleeding profusely. If I call 911, will someone help me and possibly take me to the hospital?" The way questions are deleted around here, that would be a clear nomination for deletion. What if the person lives in a country where 911 is not the emergency number? What if the person doesn't have a phone? What if he or she calls 911 and the person who arrives is incompetent and causes more harm than good?
This is an area that has been, in the loosest sense of the word, debated for a very long time without any consensus. I have difficulty claiming there has been a debate because all I see is one side claiming "If it is medical, it is banned from Wikipedia or we'll all get sued!" Then, there is the other side claiming "There is no real reason to remove any question for any reason. If you do, you are a content Nazi!" There is no middle ground argument. I believe that I am in the sane section of the middle ground. There are others (many who disagree with my views) that are also in the sane section of the middle ground. I simply do not know how to get them to put any effort into coming to a true consensus which will allow us to write a guideline that is based on that consensus. -- kainaw 19:52, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
My perception is somewhat different. I think most discussants are somewhat in the middle, although among those some are more loose and some more strict in interpreting questions as being deleterious. What makes the debate less fruitful is, in my opinion, partly a matter of discussants not being aware of these guidelines. For example, there is indeed a recurrent misunderstanding, expressed in the debates, that the point of not giving medical advice on the RD is a legal issue. However, it is a matter of ethics: we want to avoid the real possibility of doing harm. That is clearly stated in the "Why?" section of these guidelines for medical advice. Another matter is that some discussants do not seem to realize that it sometimes may indeed be difficult to draw the boundary, and vehemently disagree with those who reach a different conclusion, instead of aiming at clarifying the how and why of different assessments. One purpose of having guidelines is that they may help in shaping such discussions – but only if we keep pointing them out to people who appear to be unaware of them.
Personally I do not see much risk of the "test" being used in attempts to bolster arguments for removing any request for information. The example you give is, however, problematic. If I saw a question like "I have a headache. Does aspirin or hydrocortisone help stop headaches?", I would assume that the questioner is trolling. Assuming however it is an honest and real question, there is indeed a real risk that the answers given might discourage the questioner from seeing a medical professional when needed.
You are concerned about a potential misinterpretation of this section of the guidelines. As always, guidelines are not cast in stone and should be interpreted with common sense, and what counts on Wikipedia is not a legalistic interpretation but the consensus of the editors. Still, we want the guidelines to be helpful to those who read them for being enlightened. If you know of an actual case where this test has been used as an argument for removing a request for information that should not be classified as seeking medical advice, please let us know, so that the text of this section may be refined to exclude such misinterpretations.  --Lambiam 07:30, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
There is an example that happened recently. A person wrote a long diatribe about conflicting information about how much Vitamin C a person should take. Then, he asked how much should a person take. He wanted to know what the recommended daily allotment of Vitamin C should be for any average person. However, since he stated that he had read about recommendations and heard advice from people and read the notes on Vitamin C bottles and such, this test turned it into a request for medical advice. A few users vehemently defended their opinion that this was a request for medical advice by quoting this guideline and this test - even after the questioner returned to say he just wanted to know what health agencies around the world were telling people to take and why.
That is when I realized that "personalizing" a request for medical information causes some people to read it as a request for advice. In this case, I can simplify it to "I've been taking Vitamin C supplements. How much should a person take?" The question really has nothing to do with the fact that he has been taking them. He is just personalizing the question so he doesn't sound so impersonal. If you remove the personalization, you get "How much Vitamin C should a person take?" That is clearly a request for information - with a very obvious answer. You link to the vitamin C article and quote the FDA guidelines. Since then, I've seen many questions where a person explains why they are requesting information and are given a hard smack for requesting advice. I told a person to just ask for the information - do not explain why you want the information. Then, I was ridiculed for coaching users into tricking the RD into giving advice.
This comes down to what I believe the test should be. In my headache example, the answer is "Aspirin may be used to treat a headache. Hydrocortisone is often used to treat itching and swelling." Does that answer contain medical advice? Of course not. It is purely medical information. In the Vitamin C question, the answer is "The FDA allotment for Vitamin C is 90mg/day. Some countries suggest as low as 40mg/day." Is that medical advice? Of course not. It simply quotes recommended daily allowance from government sources. So, I feel that the test should be: "Does an answer to the question require medical advice? If not, the question may be answered only with medical information and must, therefore, be asking for information and not advice." -- kainaw 12:21, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
If respondents have a problem distinguishing medical information from medical advice, it is not going to help them if we tell them: "Here is how to make the distinction. If it is simply medical information, then it is simply medical information and you may supply that as an answer. However, if it is medical advice, then it is medical advice and must not be given as an answer."
As to your Vitamin C case: can you dig that up? It sounds like an obviously ludicrous interpretation, but I need to see the actual exchange to check this. I see you taking the stance here that the consensus is actually much stricter than given by the test, using a hypothetical non-person bound request for information if there are any documented studies on the "best" amount of Vitamin C to take. You claimed there that the consensus is that this is a no-no, while others disagreed with you. I'm getting confused now. Did your interpretation of what the consensus is change that much in under three months?  --Lambiam 22:52, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Forget it. I'll chalk this up as yet another failed attempt to get some discussion on the matter. -- kainaw 12:43, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Failed in what sense? You can't mean that you have been posting comments without getting a response. Could it be that in your eyes it only counts as discussion when you can get other discussants to agree with you? I submit fpr your consideration that presenting highly contrived hypothetical examples for which you attack strawman positions is not conducive to eliciting fruitful discussion.  --Lambiam 22:28, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

I find this guideline to be overreaching. I recognize that "I have a persistent cough. Can that be caused by heartburn?" can be taken as a request for medical advice. It also can be taken as a simple request for information. It depends on whether you mentally parse "that" to mean "a persistent cough" or "my persistent cough". This in turn depends on whether you think of a persistent cough as something that would be the same for anybody, or whether you think it is different for different people. Because I think coughs probably are a lot different for different people, I favor the idea that it is a call for medical advice; but the poster may not think of it that way and could be annoyed.

I think a far more appropriate response would be to strikethough the original question and post a revised wording, explain the medical advice ban, then answer it:

I have a persistent cough. Can that be caused by heartburn?
Can a persistent cough be caused by heartburn?
I've taken the liberty of rephrasing your question, since I don't know about your cough in particular and I can't advise you on your condition (see WP:reference desk/Guidelines/Medical advice). But following up on some sources in the cough and heartburn articles with a web of science search, I found that ... (etc.)

I think this is a far more mature way to deal with this situation than some obnoxious template. Human questioners deserve human answers, and they should be hindered no more by policy than is strictly necessary to follow the policy. Wnt (talk) 13:50, 14 August 2010 (UTC)

Some comments[edit]

I made a bunch of small changes here. Revert at will. However, I do have some comments/questions:

  • Under "Dealing with questions...":
  • Number 2 should mention that a note should be left at the Refdesk talk page after a question has been removed.
  • Number 3 shouldn't include the word "Consider". An explanatory note should definitely be left at the OP's talk page. Remember, we have to assume that the OP wasn't aware of the guidelines (or didn't understand them) and courtesy demands that we leave a note to explain why their question was removed.
  • Under "Distinguishing between...", should the valid question not read "Is heartburn a common cause of a persistent cough?"?

Zain Ebrahim (talk) 11:11, 2 July 2008 (UTC)

I've added that the remover should note the question removal by posting a diff to the Refdesk talk page, and also made the last correction. I have the impression that a substantial number of the questions for medical advice are from trolls, in which case one should consider not leaving a note on their talk pages. I feel that in most other cases the {{RD-deleted}} message is clear enough and is an appropriate notification for the questioner.  --Lambiam 16:40, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

Approach to questions of medical advice[edit]

The subject of ongoing debate at WP:RD/S and at WP:RDTK - what constitutes a request for medical advice? The obvious answer is any medical question can be construed as a request for medical advice. I've taken the approach that our guidelines are not to give advice, regardless of the question, and that removing the question doesn't actually help OPs consider how they'll phrase their questions. I've ben discussing this here, and in the process created a template I think will be useful, and may be adapted to legal & financial questions, too. I think this would be a useful guideline to operate under. Here's the template:

No medical advice.jpg
Thanks for posting your question. Your question seems to be a request for medical advice. It is against our guidelines to provide medical advice. You might like to re-phrase your question. You may also find it helpful to read the article: Article, and form your own opinion from the information there.

Other comments

Note to editors:
Any response containing prescriptive information or medical advice will be removed.
Please ensure your responses are constructed so as not to be construed as medical advice!
If you remove a response, please paste it and your reason for removal on the Reference Desk Discussion page
If you feel a response you have given has been removed in error, please discuss it at the Reference Desk Discussion page before restoring it.

. Mattopaedia Have a yarn 04:20, 3 March 2009 (UTC)

Please highlight the term of medical advice .....[edit]

as Medical advice-- (talk) 00:59, 30 July 2009 (UTC)

Legal or Medical advice[edit]

There is a discussion at Wikipedia talk:Talk page guidelines#Legal or Medical advice that may be of interest.

It concerns requests for legal or medical advice posted to one of the reference desks.

I am posting this here because of a potential conflict between the talk page guidelines and reference desk guidelines --Guy Macon (talk) 06:00, 18 March 2014 (UTC)

suggested changes (1)[edit]

I suggest removing paragraph 2, since it states the painfully obvious:

Note: This guideline describes types of medical advice that are considered inappropriate to offer on Wikipedia as derived by the consensus of Wikipedia volunteers. Be aware that this guideline is not intended to define what constitutes the "practice of medicine" for legal or professional purposes, nor should any part of this guideline be interpreted as supplanting or superseding the regulations of any government agency or professional body.

Um, "should not be interpreted as supplanting or superseding the regulations of any government agency or professional body???" You mean Wikipedia is not above the AMA?? I would just delete it, but the guideline template box at the top says not to be so bold with these pages. Any comments? IBE (talk) 04:48, 16 April 2014 (UTC)

Suggested changes (2)[edit]

Per discussion here (I know this will be archived, so search for 6 April 2014, "Proposals to modify refdesk guidelines on matters of removing and/or hatting controversial questions"). Addendum: now at [2].

I regard the consensus as reasonable, that these guidelines should be modified to focus on answers more than questions. Furthermore, I regard it as reasonable to work on the compromise solution, that outright removal is discouraged. The consensus was not perfect. I have also read the talk page archives for this page, and there was not much of a consensus about this page at any point, so it seems more than reasonable to change it. This would mean changing the various paragraphs that mandate absolute removal, and replacing them with "Outright removal is discouraged". Similarly, the solution would be to "add a link to Wikipedia:Medical disclaimer, and answer by giving information, such as links to articles. If the question appears to be seeking medical advice, the first answer in particular should advise the person to see a qualified professional. Subsequent answers must never bring this advice into question, and should reiterate it if there is any doubt."

There is a separate discussion about the priority of talk page guidelines and the reference desk guidelines. This discussion and any resultant changes will have no impact on that discussion. This is about the content of the current page, not about what trumps what. See Guy Macon's link above. IBE (talk) 05:13, 16 April 2014 (UTC)

I fully support the proposed changes. If a question is a clear (or even borderline) request for medical advice, we leave the question there, link to disclaimer, and only provide references, with no speculation or synthesis. SemanticMantis (talk) 20:11, 16 April 2014 (UTC)
Done! IBE (talk) 04:21, 30 April 2014 (UTC)

RFC which applies to this page[edit]

An RFC which may affect the status of this page is located here please comment if this interests you. --Jayron32 16:32, 25 March 2015 (UTC)