The risks associated with publishing medical information are so obvious that they require no exposition. Whether a publisher is providing information about diseases, disorders, pharmaceuticals, therapies, medical devices or any other medical matter, there is always the possibility of error or misinterpretation, and therefore the possibility of harm. The degree of risk, of course, depends upon context.
While there is no difference in kind between the risks associated with publishing medical information online and those associated with offline publication, websites can have a large readership, and de-contextualisation of information published on a website is a particular risk as compared, say, with information published in a medical textbook.
As recent public health scandals in the UK have shown, people do change their behaviour, including refraining from receiving recommended health procedures, on the basis of what they read and hear in the media.
For all these reasons, those who publish medical information online should have a strategy for managing these risks. This medical information disclaimer is intended to help with this process. To be clear, the risks cannot be eliminated entirely by a legal disclaimer, at least insofar as the risks arise under English law, but they can usually be reduced.
This disclaimer asserts that the medical information on the website is just that: information, not advice. The disclaimer also provides that the information is made available without any warranties. In particular, no warranties are given in relation to the availability of the information on the website, or the truth and accuracy of the information.
General guidance is provided in relation to reliance. First, information on the website should not be treated as an alternative to professional advice. Second, specific questions about medical matters should be addressed to a professional. Third, if a user is actually suffering from any medical condition, they are advised to seek immediate medical attention. Finally, users are instructed never to delay seeking professional advice, ignore such advice or stop any course of treatment on the basis of information on the website.
The disclaimer incorporates a general caveat: liabilities which cannot by law be limited or excluded are carved out from the scope of the disclaimer.
A well-drafted medical disclaimer is of course only one element in a comprehensive strategy for handling medical information publication risks. Amongst other things, a publisher should have systems in place to ensure that medical information is accurate and up to date and carries appropriately prominent warnings. In addition, insurance coverage and publishing through a dedicated limited liability entity should be considered.