Online health communities can be a great support for many patients. Patients sharing experiences with others is a great way to feel connected, reduce anxiety, and increase education.
Recently I joined Mayo Clinic Connect. There are many communities based on specific subject areas. So far I have had a positive experience, members have been welcoming, informative, and supportive. I recommend this site.
What’s the problem you ask? Increasingly patients are posting questions that go beyond support. Patients are asking specific questions regarding medications, or symptoms about their specific condition. One patient stated he had suicidal thoughts. This is a very important line that can’t be crossed dividing support and medical advice. Community members need to be very careful not to advise others concerning their medical condition. We are not qualified, and there can be serious legal consequences for doing so.
When a member asks a question that requires medical advice it is best to urge them to contact their healthcare team. Members can offer support and share experiences.
It is so important to have a positive relationship with your healthcare team. Patients should be able to call anytime and get their questions answered in a timely manner. Sometimes patients feel like they are being a bother so they don’t call. If you don’t feel you are getting your questions answered, then find a new provider.
I am a patient with multiple chronic illnesses, but I have many years of experience working as a medical assistant and training medical assistants. I have taught medical law and ethics for many years so I know the important of giving support versus giving advice which I am not qualified to do.
Please if you are a online community member, supportive friend or just a caring person be mindful to be supportive, but leave the medical advice to medical professionals.