Health information is widely available online, yet the quality of that information can be dubious at best.

In an article published in the AMA Journal of Ethics, Danielle Hahn Chaet, MSB, highlights the principles contained in the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics that emphasize the importance of physician-patient communication and education to combat potentially dangerous health information and reduce the likelihood that patients will request an ineffective or contraindicated therapy that is recommended to them online.

Patients, as well as professionals and other healthcare decision makers, obtain health advice and information from various sources, particularly online. However, some of these individuals may not have the appropriate level of expertise or knowledge to evaluate these health recommendations critically. Opinion 1.1.6 on Quality in the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics states that as “[healthcare] professionals dedicated to promoting the well-being of patients, physicians individually and collectively share the obligation to ensure that the care patients receive is safe…[and] effective,” which applies directly to ensuring that all health information communicated to patients is evidence based and appropriate.

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Because of the diversity of information available today, many patients and/or their family members may request medically inappropriate and ineffective treatments for their condition(s). The Code states that this situation can challenge a physician’s responsibility to “balance obligations to respect patient autonomy and not to abandon the patient with obligations to be compassionate, yet candid, and to preserve the integrity of medical judgment.” Careful communication with the patient regarding the evidence surrounding their requested therapy may help steer both physician and patient toward a clearer, possibly more effective treatment course.

“Whether proposing or responding to a request for a medical intervention, physicians have responsibilities to base their recommendations on their best medical judgment, which, generally, should be evidence based and patient centered,” the author concluded.


Chaet DH. AMA Code of Medical Ethics’ opinions related to false beliefs in health care. AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(11):E1049-E1051.