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What you should know about the legalities of health and wellness websites

Providing health and wellness information online comes with legal responsibilities. Here are some things you need to know.

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One thing the internet is infamous for is being a source of advice for our health and well-being.

It doesn’t matter where we turn, there is someone with a website telling us what to do to lose weight, slow down aging or treat our illnesses.

We all do it. We aren’t feeling well, so we type our symptoms into “Dr. Google” and voila, thousands of results telling us we have everything from a common cold to 6 months to live. We then take our results in hand to our doctor and tell him what we have.  

Sadly, professionals in the health care industry, doctors, therapists, dieticians and nutritionists all have an everyday fight with misinformation that is provided on the internet.

If you are a blogger and have some experience with health-related issues, you may want to share this information with the world.

Or, you may be a professional with some education on certain health-related subjects and want to use that information to boost your business online.

Either way, you have to be very careful to follow the rules when it comes to providing health and wellness website information and advice to the masses.

Legal responsibilities for providing health-related advice

So what are the legal issues for health consulting and coaching businesses when providing health-related information on a website?

There have been more than a few lawsuits in past years that have stemmed from sharing of health and diet advice with others on the internet.

In a recent lawsuit in North Carolina, a blogger changed his life and had experience with managing his Type 1 diabetes through use of the Paleo diet. He blogged about his efforts and when successful, he took his blogging a step further and began to share his meal plans and exercise regimens.

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Eventually, he began providing one-on-one sessions to advise his readers in the ways of his experience for a fee.

In North Carolina, there is a misdemeanor law that makes it unlawful to practice dietetics or nutrition without a license. This blogger was charged with breaking this law and North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is now threatening him with prison.

Research all governing bodies’ rules and regulations

When providing health and wellness information online, you must ensure you are following all the rules.

People head over to the internet to seek advice for their health and well-being. (Source)

Each governing body has separate rules on what information you can and cannot advise the public with regarding their health.

Canada and the United States both have specific federal laws and then each province and state also have their own separate laws.

If you are going to provide information, then you must look up those laws according to where you live and where you are doing business from. And to take it even a step further, you then have to consider the audience you are targeting.

A good guideline to follow if you are providing information on your health-related website is to ask yourself, are you being specific to a particular personal health situation. The blogger in the North Carolina lawsuit was doing okay with providing his personal experiences with the Paleo diet.

His suggestions for exercise regimens or providing his personal diet plans on his health and nutrition website may even have been okay with the law but as soon as he started consulting one-on-one with individuals and providing advice, he was beyond sharing his personal experience and fell into the realm of providing medical expertise in an area where he was not legally certified to engage in.

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Remember, giving your opinion about a health-related subject or telling about your specific experience is one thing, but if you are claiming to be an expert in anything on your health and nutrition website, you could be held accountable by the boards who are responsible for governing the public education on the subject and run into legal issues.

You must not in any way claim or pose as something you are not if you are going to provide reliable health information.

If you are handing out health or wellness advice, you need to be very clear about what your education and expertise are and also be very careful of the legal issues surrounding any advice you give.

This is where working with a professional web development firm could help steer you in the right direction and ensure you are not posting anything that could cause you legal problems while operating your business. Consulting a lawyer who is well-versed in these matters would also be very prudent.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Susan Friesen, founder of the award-winning web development and digital marketing firm eVision Media, is a Web Specialist, Business & Marketing Consultant, and Social Media Advisor. She works with entrepreneurs who struggle with having the lack of knowledge, skill and support needed to create their online business presence. As a result of working with Susan and her team, clients feel confident and relieved knowing their online marketing is in trustworthy and caring hands so they can focus on building their business with peace of mind at having a perfect support system in place to guide them every step of the way.

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