A medical disclaimer is a legal statement informing individuals that the advice provided in the specified source is not meant as a professional diagnosis or treatment. This type of information is frequently found where medical information is provided in written or verbal form to the general public. It typically states that the recommendations provided are for informational purposes only. Many disclaimers encourage readers and viewers to consult a medical professional before beginning any course of action based on the topics covered in the source.
When a patient visits a doctor, the doctor generally examines the patient and makes a professional medical diagnosis based on the information he or she has gleaned regarding the individual during the course of the exam. The patient can then hold the doctor responsible for actions taken, based on the information provided during the visit. If the patient comes to believe he or she has been incorrectly diagnosed and as a result experienced negative, long-lasting side effects, that patient may then choose to sue the doctor responsible.
Medical liability cases in which patients sue doctors for wrongful diagnosis or treatment can become very expensive. Settlements and awards for successful convictions often exceed hundreds of thousands of US Dollars, based on the level of suffering the wronged patient claims he or she experienced. For this reason, doctors frequently require patients to sign medical waivers and releases from liability. These forms prevent patients from holding doctors legally responsible for actions taken that are outside of the doctor's reasonable control or responsibility.
A medical disclaimer works similarly to waivers and releases from liability, and serves to protect medical information available to the general public rather than doctors. This information is available in a variety of sources, such as medical websites, science and medicine journals, newspapers, talk shows, and textbooks. Without a medical disclaimer, these sources could be viewed as attempting to provide professional treatment and diagnosis of certain ailments. An individual who acted on the information provided in one of these sources, who then met with harm, could potentially hold the publishers and authors of the material responsible for his or her misfortune.
Medical texts cover a variety of topics, and frequently discuss life-threatening diseases. These books may list symptoms of certain diseases and detail warning signs that may appear in affected individuals. Though the general public has the ability to access and read them, many do not possess the training and skills necessary to act on this information appropriately. For example, a woman may believe she has detected a lump in her breast and wishes to read more information about breast cancer. Consulting medical texts and websites on breast cancer does not make her a professional, however, and she could do potential harm to herself if she tried to remove the lump personally at home. In such a case, a medical disclaimer protects the texts consulted while attempting to learn more about the disease.
Medical websites similarly contain articles that relate to various health topics. Many offer a type of diagnosing service in which a reader may input symptoms he or she is experiencing, and the website will return several possible causes. The patient can then link to articles which can provide recommendations on how to cure a specific ailment, or how to improve overall health. These articles and recommendations, however, are not tailored for the health of one particular individual and should not be considered professional consultation. Individuals who believe they are experiencing symptoms of an illness should always consult a doctor before beginning any form of treatment.