The “Laws” of Writing about Health


There is a thin wall connecting professional scholarship to popular press.  In the healthcare industry, this wall is a bit thicker due to certain restrictions that exist.  However, there are some rules in writing about health and medicine that say the same thing in both the professional and popular press writing fields.

In the professional field of writing about medicine and health, you have these legal restrictions limiting what you can say and how you can say it.  There are also these common sense limits placed out there, and the limits or restrictions generated by general law.  Criticisms and attempts to embarrass or ridicule for example have the possibility of coming back at you legally, if not professionally then in terms of civil law.  Freedom of speech has its limits should misleading or even inferring a falsehood about some great leader in the field, person or company, is claimed to be responsible for health matters according to how you phrase your arguments and facts.  Criticisms themselves are simply personal opinion.  But their severity can result in claims of defamation.  That is also not the best route to take when trying to make a point in health writing.

In the popular press, the reason we do not point a finger is often because we have sources whom we wish to not reveal.  There are also cases in which we honor the person’s desire to remain anonymous about his or her opinion, health experience, disease related claim, etc.  Generally, writers honor this right to privacy in whatever they do as popular press health writers (Martin, Caraminica & Fargo, 2011; Martin & Fargo, 2013).

In the professional field you have the legal reasons for privacy rights to contend with.   The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)  in particular states quite clearly that it is illegal to reveal anything about a personal health record, even if that record is of the President or some famous public spokesperson.  The restrictions in general are therefore the same.  However the consequences may not be.  This is why the healthcare system has more legal avenues in place for dealing with these concerns.  Professionalism defines the decision making process at a primary level, not at a secondary level where you are simply just “reporting” or “re-reporting” medical news (Strauss, 2013; Hayden, 2013).

People serve as sources for evidence, proof, examples, reasons to argue your case, but they also serve as a means for you to get in serious legal and professional trouble should you reveal too much about your sources.  In popular press, we call that editorial rights and decision, in the medical research and writing world, we call that patient’s rights, a primary result of HIPAA.


For more on Shield Laws:

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.  Accessed at

Society of Professional Journalists.  Federal Shield Law.  Accessed at

Professional Journal Articles (Modernizing the Shield Law and Anonymity):

Martin, J., & Fargo, A. (2013). Rebooting Shield Laws: Updating Journalists Privilege to Reflect the realities of Digital Newsgathering.  University Of Florida Journal Of Law & Public Policy, 24(1), 47-96.

Martin, J. A., Caramanica, M. R., & Fargo, A. L. (2011). Anonymous Speakers and Confidential Sources: Using Shield Laws When They Overlap Online. Communication Law & Policy, 16(1), 89-125. doi:10.1080/10811680.2011.536499.



For more on HIPAA:

American Medical Association (AMA).   HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).  Accessed at  HIPAA – General Information,  Accessed at

Professional Journal Articles (order of preference)

Strauss, L. J. (2013). Overview of the HIPAA Final Omnibus Rule. Journal Of Health Care Compliance, 15(3), 53-64.

Hayden, J. R. (2013). Health Plans and HIPAA Privacy and Security. Journal Of Health Care Compliance, 15(2), 45-59.

Tomes, J. P. (2013). The Law of Unintended (Financial) Consequences: The Expansion of HIPAA Business Associate Liability. Journal Of Health Care Finance, 39(4), 28-35.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s