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Cautions are needed for online medical consultations

english.bjinternetcourt.gov.cn | Updated: 2023-04-26


The development of online medical consultation on the internet has provided convenience for people's lives; however, it has also brought some risks. The Beijing Internet Court (BIC) recently concluded several cases in which doctors sued an online health consultation service platform for online infringement.

Case summary

The plaintiffs of those cases were all doctors in major hospitals in Beijing. They discovered that an online health consultation service platform had a large number of health consultation answers provided in their own names, which contained contents obviously beyond the scope of normal medical inquiries and replies. They stated that they would never give such feedbacks whether from the perspective of medical ethics or professionalism.
The plaintiffs claimed that the platform had used their names to publish health consultation content, which could easily raise doubts from the public about their professional level and ethics, and thus damaged their reputation. This resulted in them suing the online platform at the BIC.

The defendant argued that the platform aimed to provide free online services to the general public, hospitals and doctors. The information released on the platform about the plaintiffs and their answers were obtained online, which was an appropriate utilization of public resources. The platform also had a disclaimer stating that "some of the texts and pictures on the website are sourced from the internet. If there is suspected infringement, please contact us for deletion." By doing so, the platform believed that it had fulfilled its reasonable duty of care.

After trial, the BIC concluded that:

The platform used the plaintiffs' names, photos, and professional titles without their authorization or consent to post consultation replies on the website, which could easily lead the general public to believe that the plaintiffs were providing consultation services on the website. There were also clear indications of treatment and recommendations of specific medications in the health consultation services exceeded the plaintiffs’ professional expertise, which could raise questions about the plaintiffs’ professional competence and ethics, leading to negative impacts on their characters and reputations. Therefore, the involved platform's behavior constituted infringement of the plaintiffs' rights to reputation.

Also, the platform provided health consultation services using the plaintiffs' names without their consent or authorization, which constituted infringement of their rights to name.

Details of the judgment:

The BIC ordered the platform to apologize to the plaintiffs and pay compensation for their mental stress. The verdicts are now in effect.

Tips from the judge:

There are big differences between online medical consultations and online health consultations. A platform needs to report to relevant authorities for strict examination and approval to engage in medical diagnosis and treatment services on the internet. Practicing doctors on the platform also need to publicize relevant information. Internet medical consultations in the name of health consultations are illegal.

The general public should go to specialized websites of medical institutions or professional medical consultation platforms for specific diagnosis. The online health consultation service industry should take service quality and safety as fundamental, strengthen self-regulation, improve service level, and never pursue improper benefits through illegal means.