As part of an answer on how to increase users' questions (How do we increase our questions per day?), Joe included an idea related to medical questions which I feel deserves some additional discussion.

Should we attempt to adjust obvious medical advice questions to be more broad and applicable? Would a set of well-referenced answers relating to (e.g.) "When do I need to worry about my child's fever" be a useful reference since it's broadly applicable, or cause more problems than it solves?

For related meta reading, please also see:

I think it would be worth thinking about whether we could approach these a bit differently, at least in the more complex cases. Of course, we can't offer medical advice - I think exactly one of us is an actual doctor, and she certainly can't give advice over the internet anyway - but we can perhaps approach these questions in a more welcoming way that perhaps leads to further engagement.

Similarly to the "sleep" question above, perhaps we can have a more well-defined page discussing medical issues, written from the point of view of a parent but with details helping a parent understand some of the more common medical situations they will encounter. Of course we can't tell them what to do with their child right now, but that doesn't mean we can't describe what a flu is, and what the common treatments are, so that they understand what their doctor is telling them to do - or perhaps instead of including that information on our page, we link to webmd or similar pages on other sites that cover the information effectively.

We also include some information that helps them to form a good question about medical issues that is acceptable here - we don't really cover that very well in any place a new user will find, including the Help Center. Give some examples of things we can help with, for example.

We also might want to consider allowing a few more questions on the medical side of things with the understanding that we won't answer directly with medical advice - nothing like "You should take your child..." or "You might want to take a temperature and ...", - but instead allowed to ask about similar experiences. Rather than What do I do if my child has a fever for a week even after the Doctor said nothing was wrong, which is still medical advice, we edit the question to the reasonable, Has anyone had experiences with their child having a fever for a long period of time while the doctor says nothing is wrong?

To a large extent, parents who come here with medical problems aren't coming here because they want a doctor - they're coming here because they're stressed and confused, and want reassurance that their child is normal. Allowing questions that are "medical advice" to instead be modified to "parental coping" might help lead them to be more engaged and get what they really need - reassurance that they're doing fine, they're making reasonable decisions, and their child's experiences are normal.

  • Wasn't there a brand new Healthcare SE site? or am I hallucinating?
    – user3143
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 18:04
  • Healthcare is currently 43 days into its public beta, but appears to be doing pretty well. One of our moderators also moderates over there.
    – Acire
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 18:11
  • Have we already changed the policy? If not, this one seems in violation
    – user3143
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 15:05
  • May be worth a separate meta. However, it is a non-immediate question (OP is not currently in labor and won't be for months) and reads to me more a question about dealing with a medical professional, rather than seeking a diagnosis. It could be further adjusted to de-focus from the recommended moment for a c-section.
    – Acire
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 15:46

3 Answers 3


I would like to answer first as a user who happens to be a physician, then as a moderator; thanks for bearing with me.

As a doc, I'm not overly concerned with answering medical questions; I know when a referral is in order, what's an emergency, etc. What I fear (not only on this site) is users who think their advice is good when it's not. That is my major objection to personal medical questions. It is constantly drummed into doctors and other medical professionals to first do no harm; users don't suffer from such pangs of conscience.

A way to deal with this is to require good sources (not blogs) when answering medical questions, and down voting answers that don't list references and leaving comments. I only have one vote. That would mean others would have to vote and comment as well.

As a moderator, though, I think Joe makes some very good points that would, I believe, make the site more broadly appealing and user-friendly. As such, I think we should seriously consider implementing them. Rereading all of the above text, the only detail I would differ with is having a separate page with medical advice. Those are all over the Internet. I have no objection to this, but answering each user would, I think, be more attractive. People want to interact with other people - other parents who have faced problems with breastfeeding, bed wetting, and whether their doctor has sufficiently advised them - i.e. what to do when they doubt their doctor's advice (say what?!?). This is what we can offer parents that WebMD can't.

  • -1 regarding requiring "good sources". As you point out in your linked answer, doctors' advice is skewed towards answers that have had drug company or other financial interests supporting associated research. That's also true of "good sources", which incidentally are easily found in web searches anyway. What this site can offer that those other sites cannot is the experience of other parents who have been in similar circumstances.
    – Warren Dew
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 5:13

My answer is mostly a rehash of anongoodnurse's general idea, but here we go:

  • If you make it ontopic, make it a Skeptics.SE model. Only answers explicitly backed by peer-reviewed research should be allowed for medical questions. In the most literal way, if an answer wouldn't pass a muster on Skeptics, it shouldn't pass here either. Up to an including asking Skeptics moderators to arbitrate (in case of major disagreement, or to help Parenting mods get into the groove - not to imply that they need handholing :)

    This approach would place extra high load on moderators, FYI, AND require active user side moderation.

    The difference from Skeptics is that, unlike Skeptics, you don't need a notable claim to ask the question.

  • Also, please see if there's a huge scope overlap with https://health.stackexchange.com/

  • Any time a question gets answered with popular but unreferenced advice, we can always easily take that advice as a "notable claim", and turn it into an excellent Skeptics.SE question - this allowing us to close the original one here if needed without leaving the original poster with no avenue of info.


It's a terrible idea unless the answer is "if you are concerned go see a doctor". If the doctor says they're not worried the answer here should be "ask your doctor why they're not worried".

Here's an example of a good answer (it has a single lonely upvote): https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/20245/1385

I can accept that it might be useful to have a list of "when do i see a doctor?", but only as long as that list is supported by government level (eg US CDC or UK NHS, or NICE) recommendations.

This thread has people suggesting that research papers might be a suitable level of referencing. I politely but firmly disagree. Most of what we know is wrong; single research papers are a lousy source of advice.

To a large extent, parents who come here with medical problems aren't coming here because they want a doctor - they're coming here because they're stressed and confused, and want reassurance that their child is normal. Allowing questions that are "medical advice"

I dunno, I've seen plenty of questions from people who are seeking medical advice.

  • This meta was intended to be more asking whether questions should be adjusted to make them more topical. For example, in the Question you link to, "how can I get more information about my son's ADHD diagnosis" could be topical, while "does he have ADHD" is not; either interpretation is currently possible.
    – Acire
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 23:08
  • @Erica in my opinion question askers dislike having their questions reworded. Changing the question just means we're not answering the question that person wants to ask. There are 4 option: answer them; close them; reword them; close them and ask the new version as a different new question. I'm not persuaded that it's worth the stress to reword questions.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 13:37
  • 1
    Which is less welcoming: rewording a question so it can get some answers, or closing it outright [whether or not a revised version is asked later]? I believe we agree that answering the question asked (with the medical advice requested) is not an option.
    – Acire
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 15:42
  • @Erica - when someone closes a question they recognise the impact. When someone rewords a question they think it's entirely benevolent -- they don't recognize it for the toxic act it is.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 19:23
  • 1
    Discouraging edits is rather against the StackExchange model, though.
    – Acire
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 19:24

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