As regular readers of this site will be aware, we love Quora. We love it because of the wealth of knowledge that has poured out of seemingly all corners of the tech sphere and into the service. But the service itself has much broader goals than that. They want to be the organized brain-dump for all human knowledge. That obviously means a lot of verticals beyond technology. And a new feature today should help them march towards that goal in two very important verticals: medicine and law.
Quora now offers legal and medical disclaimers that any doctor or lawyer can easily place at the bottom of their posts. The service has written these disclaimers in a language for each profession that they believe will protect these individuals; while at the same time making it much more clear to other users that the answers are not a substitution for advice/care from your actual doctor or lawyer. And the key part is that these disclaimers are entirely customizable by each doctor/lawyer to suit their needs.
That last bit is important because while Quora says they do believe that the baseline disclaimers will offer protections, they haven’t done a full 50-state review to account for all the various law differences across the U.S. I suspect lawyers will have no problem altering the disclaimers as they see fit for their particular state. Doctors too should know the laws in the state they practice in. And if laws/rules do change, any edits made to the disclaimers will automatically update across all answers left by those professionals on Quora.
The disclaimers themselves will appear at the bottom of posts in a light gray color to show they’re different from the main text. They’ll also be collapsed by default so as not to take up too much room. Clicking the “more” link will expose the full disclaimer.
Quora is also perfectly happy to let the doctors/lawyers use the exact disclaimer wording on other sites that they may contribute to. And they’re even open to allowing other sites to adopt their baseline disclaimers as well.
But again, this is all still really about information. “When it comes to medicine and law, the stakes are really high to get the right answers,” Quora’s Marc Bodnick tells us. “All of us are interested in medical and legal issues. Right now, there’s a feeling of helplessness around these issues on the web,” he continues.
Bodnick notes that his wife, who is a pediatrician, often gets asked question on medical issues by her friends. But these paragraphs of knowledge that would undoubtedly be helpful to others are trapped in single email threads. Wouldn’t it be better to let these people share this knowledge with others, he wonders.
Bodnick believes that this new feature (and the accompanying Terms of Service changes to provide a bit more protection) will give attorneys and doctors a platform to share their knowledge in a responsible way. While there have been plenty of other services over the years that have aimed to bring medical and/or legal advice online, most don’t offer protections beyond the most topical level (often just ToS wording). When Quora noticed that many of the doctors and lawyers already using the service were writing their own disclaimers on posts, it became clear that they should easily allow all of these professionals to do this.
At the same time, both Quora and these doctors/lawyers have to make it clear that these answers are not meant to be a replacement for seeking the help of your own lawyers and doctors. And, of course, the doctors/lawyers will not be permitted to break the client & patient confidentiality rules or create new such relationships on the web.
For now, this new disclaimer feature will only be offered to licensed doctors and lawyers (and law and medical students) on Quora. It’s both a smart idea and a necessary one to give everyone on the service peace of mind and let the information flow healthily and legally through these verticals.