Provision of Legal and Medical Services on the Internet: Licensure and Ethical Considerations

June 16, 2012

Not many years ago, a person needing medical or legal advice picked up the telephone and called a local professional, and often she made an appointment to see that professional in person. Today, telephone calls and in-person appointments are viewed by some as inefficient uses of time and energy, especially since with just a click of a computer mouse, the person can be surfing the Internet. The Internet is brimming with legal and medical websites, offering advice, and, often, much more intense consultation. While people use the Internet to find and obtain advice from professionals because it is often quicker and more efficient than telephone calls and in-person appointments, users as well as providers of such services should be concerned with the quality of information given and with the competency of the providers of the website.
Despite the attractiveness of the Internet, professionals who use the Internet to advertise and provide their services should be aware of the presence of emerging legal and ethical issues, some of which are unresolved. There have been media accounts of unscrupulous professionals such as the lawyer on the Internet who accepted money from an Internet user for her child custody battle, and then failed to appear in court for her case; later, the user discovered he was suspended from practicing law in that state. There are also concerns about physicians prescribing potentially dangerous medications without the benefit of performing a physical examination or obtaining a thorough medical history. These unscrupulous professionals and others like them find the Internet to be an attractive medium for their schemes because it is “cheap, pervasive and lacking serious regulation.” These examples are illustrative of the tremendous challenges facing the legal and medical professions and their respective regulatory agencies in their efforts to police their members in a faceless medium without boundaries.