As Lucky has pointed out to me earlier:

Since personal medical advice is strictly off-topic here, such questions:

  1. Should not be answered
  2. Should be closed

Please, don't answer such questions. Not only are you encouraging more of them by answering, but you can cause harm to the OP.

Personally, if I see an answer to an off-topic question I would leave a comment explaining why the question shouldn't be answered. But I can understand the downvotes, especially for someone who is not a new user or if the behaviour is repeated.

We have problems with a multitude of questions that are off-topic. Please do not answer these and suggest further options. If part of your answer contains Go see a doctor, delete the answer altogether, write a nice comment about the close-reason and vote to close.

I have rigorously downvoted a large amount of answers by old users (expecting they know the rules by now) and left explanatory comments to newer users to enforce this rule.

We can't complain about too many off-topic questions but encourage these kind of questions by answering them!

There are some edge cases. A few good answers by DoctorWhom on questions like "What is X and how can I deal with it" started with "You should see a doctor", but then explained what X is and provided a few treatment options. This seems okay to me. However, simply proposing treatment options or stating that this should be taken to a doctor is not really answer-worth but should be a comment.

  • 1
    I agree to a large degree but there are 2 important things we need to address. (1) Telling someone to see a doctor isn't as helpful as guiding a person as to WHAT doctor to see. I'm happy to write that in a comment, but I have been equally dinged for not putting it into an answer, so I started putting it in answer format.
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 9:01
  • 4
    (2) I have an ethical issue saying nothing when someone is either in a dangerous situation, when there's a potentially harmful answer sitting there for days, or they are desperately wanting to know WHERE to go for the help they need.
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 9:04
  • 1
    Example: health.stackexchange.com/questions/13330/… - a tooth abscess is a potential medical emergency. The OP was waiting around for answers rather than seeking care. There was already an answer that potentially downplayed its seriousness. So should I have just put that in the comments?
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 9:08
  • 2
    As I said there, yes, asking about an abscess is off topic, and I voted to close it. But I am telling him (1) this is serious and (2) what doctor to see. I have an ethical dilemma seeing a potentially dangerous situation and saying nothing at all. How should I have done it? Is there a guide somewhere to how old users should approach editing for this site? I feel like I missed reading something. (That's a serious question, not sarcasm!)
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 9:11
  • 2
    Also, if there's a good question buried inside an off-topic question, we could edit the extraneous information from the question and then answer it. I've done that a number of times when I saw the potential buried under the personal clinical information. Wouldn't that be better than just closing all these questions? Has this also been discussed and decided before somewhere that I missed?
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 10:24
  • 1
    @DoctorWhom Re the specific answer in question: I have retracted my vote and deleted the comment until we reach consensus on Meta on how to act on such questions. The action was prematurely and I apologise. This is something the Community should decide, not a single user. I also hope that it didn't feel like I picked on you, it is just that the two most recent examples were yours and are thus part of the questions I commented on.
    – Narusan
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 13:28
  • @DoctorWhom I am not an experienced user here, and the dynamics of Health.SE are somewhat slow. All I know is that Carey and Lucky "scolded" me (in a nice way) when I answered a question that was off-topic. I would generally try to include information in comments and downvotes other answers. 500 characters are some space. // Editing questions to make them on-topic is always the better option, if the OP wants it. I personally would propose such an edit to the OP and wait until response before actually editing it.
    – Narusan
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 13:30
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    No I didn't take it personally! I think things are sometimes different based on who is active, also. I was around a year ago and when I came back things had changed a bit. It's a problem in a site with a smaller consistent user base, but some is avoidable if we establish some things via discussion. I too am going to keep coming/going depending on my rotation schedule and project time burdens, and want to help with some of that. Even if sporadically.
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 15:10
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    @DoctorWhom Dear me, I take a break for a few weeks and my name is all over meta :-D. Not to make this comment to chatty here's my dilemma: if some urgent states have an answer pointing out the potential seriousness, and others (simply by chance) remain unanswered, might the OP take the lack of an answer as a lack of seriousness? I'm not criticising and I fully understand the impulse to help and intervene (although it is stronger with doctors than us pharmacists), but I always lean towards being consistent. However this is a difficult question, I'm not sure I have the answer...
    – Lucky
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 19:54
  • @Lucky Glad to hear you are back. You were missed, take a look at the close question queue... :-P Didn't mean to drag you into this. The problem I might not have phrased clearly enough to me is that most answers can be substantially cut down and made into a comment as shown with the answer below. Is it better to comment or write an answer. The question will never be answered if we encourage comments only.
    – Narusan
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 20:00
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    Well, I can't take all the credit: there's a great post on ELL Do not feed the bears dealing with similar issues (although, of course, health is quite a different topic from language learning). Oh, yes the close-vote queue - I'm afraid I've reached my 20-vote limit for now... I'm just sorry I don't have time to write some answers (i.e. dig for references) for on-topic questions.
    – Lucky
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 20:21
  • @Lucky Should we take this to chat?
    – Narusan
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 20:24
  • You make good points. I'm all for consistency. As long as it's transparent consistency so the posters can understand the rationale.
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 4:21
  • The question then arises - shouldn't the question be edited [by hi-rep users], i.e., (generalize it, remove reference to self) to make it on-topic? I think that the majority of questions here is born of out of self-help.
    – AliceD
    Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 22:17
  • @AliceD Yes, they should, but always with approval by the OP. We won't go ahead and edit out 70% of the question body and then blackmail the OP by saying "if you rollback, the question will get closed".
    – Narusan
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 6:27

3 Answers 3


I agree with the above that we need to decide on consistent approaches to these things, maintaining transparency. (This answer is not in opposition to, but in addition to Narusan's.)

But what about questions that have a good fundamental question buried in personal advice request etc?

Instead of closing all off-topic q's, experienced users can heavily edit those kinds of advice questions to remove the personal/clinical information that made it personal advice and clearly state the underlying question.

Then we can answer it.

And we (pointing my finger at myself largely) should of course give sufficient explanation of why we edit it - which was to remove personal advice material that would get the question closed otherwise.

We would also tell them if they disagree they can revert it. (Or is there a way that I don't know about to edit a question and pend it for the OP to approve?)

If done nicely with explanation rather than scoldingly, I think most people would receive an edit well. Better than just closing the question most of the time, I would wager.

When I was a newb I was edited heavily on SuperUser SE and they gave me a good explanation why, and I appreciated it because I got the answer I really was looking for.

We can help and teach this way - people don't always know how to ask the question for what they really want to know. Believe me, I see it all the time, it isn't unique to online health discussions. It's not all from ignoring site guidelines. A lot of concepts are complex and confusing to navigate.

  • You should always ask about an edit before you actually go ahead and edit the question. If you edit and tell the new user "I've edited your question. You can revert it, and then it will get closed" seems like blackmailing to me.
    – Narusan
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 7:00

See this posting and answers on meta.stackexchange.

The problem with having bad questions answered is that relatively new users who have little idea on how this site works may provide answers when they shouldn't because the question is unclear and an answer could muddy the waters or it is asking for advice on a medical concern and a low rep member may (just to be helpful) inadvertently provide advice when it is not wise to.

How we deal with this is difficult to some extent. We need more activity within the site.

If a question is closed or put on hold, it cannot be answered until edited and re-opened.

I have seen some sites within SE have a bad question posted which is put on hold within a couple of minutes because they have the activity there. We are lucky at times to have a question put on hold within the same day it is posted.

I think what we should do is downvote answers by experienced users and put a comment on there saying why. With low experience (500 or less?) We could just comment.

The person who answered should then delete the answer. If it doesn't get deleted it should be deleted by the community as the rules are there for a reason, especially with answers to questions asking for medical advice.

  • Very harsh, but necessary? so +1 But I really need to know more about the process to ensure that newbies are actually not exposed to bad examples (when is Q auto-deleted) Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:56
  • @LangLangC - meta.stackexchange.com/q/78048 may help with that question Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 23:23
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    II wish closed questions would disappear too... basically half our page is closed, which is great because they're off topic and successfully being closed, but it keeps things cluttered.
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 4:36

I don't want to go ahead and enforce some rules without prior agreement here:

We have two options (I will just use DoctorWhom's answer as an example)

  1. Leave the answer as it is and upvote it if it is good
  2. Encourage users to post comments instead. An example comment instead of this answer:

    Abscesses can be very dangerous. However, no one online can diagnose its severity for you and say what treatment you need - OR whether it's an emergency (like go today) versus if it can wait. You must see a doctor - a dentist ideally, or primary care or emergency doctor - pretty soon. // You don't want to mess with abscesses because they are an infection by bacteria. They can grow deep and cause a spreading infection. // Often the tooth is actually salvageable by drainage of the abscess and antibiotics. Other times the tooth has to go.
    (56 characters left)

Which option should we follow in the future?

  • I do not understand:off-topic Q and "Leave the answer as it is and upvote it if it is good". From "Should not be answered" it follows for me that an upvote should be very rare on these. Only if: Answerer an upvoter should obviously both agree that up to 5 others were in error deeming the Q off-topic… Option 2 here with comments should be taboo by now? Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:53
  • @LangLangC Well, usually albeit a question bringe off-topic we can provide some help. At the time of writing that post, (IIRC) there was a trend to post an answer that explains which professional to see and why. „Headaches can have multiple causes, and before running to any specialist it is better to check with a GP first. [...]“ and similar (not an actual example). I personally think this amount of help is suitable for off-topic questions, but I think it should be a comment (and maybe we can exclude such cases from the answer-in-comment-rule) and not an answer, purely because of style:
    – Narusan
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 20:11
  • [cont‘d] As the question was deemed off-topic, the community decided that there is no appropriate answer. Posting an answer seems bad form. But some kind of help is appreciated - in my eyes. At the time of writing that post, I wasn’t sure whether we should accept such answers as answers, and not as helpful comments.
    – Narusan
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 20:12

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