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Take a Close Look at Those Papers You Sign at the Doctor’s Office

August 22, 2007

Via the Wall Street Journal Health Blog, some doctors may start including an agreement not to grade them online without permission among the myriad forms you sign at your office visit. According to the piece, “About a third of the 1,600 doctors who pay Medical Justice’s annual fee have asked for the online-review contract since the company started offering it earlier this year.

Medical Justice, the company offering the contracts, “offers proactive services designed to deter proponents of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, as well as a proven strategy for successful countersuit prosecution.” Their press release on the don’t-rate-your-doc contract explains that the service is “a way for doctors to defend themselves against defamation in the court of public opinion,” and cites the following as a reason the contracts are needed:

…technology has led to an increase in healthcare specific blogs and doctor review Web sites, such as RateMDs.com, Dr.Score.com and others. At the same time, recent case law has held that Web sites are only a vehicle for user-generated content and are thus not responsible themselves for the content. That means that physicians cannot sue a Web site that publishes false and defamatory content about them, the way that a physician could sue a newspaper or broadcast station. But if a contract is in place beforehand, the physician can use it to force a Web site to take the offending material down.

 

“In few other occupations is an individual’s reputation more important,” said Segal. “A physician’s most valuable asset resulting from the years of training and experience is his or her reputation. It’s something you can literally spend decades building and it can be ruined in a few seconds with the click of a mouse…”

 

Asking for a promise that patients won’t participate in such behavior – and requiring them to acknowledge that they can be stopped by a court order if they do – is the best solution right now to such a vexing problem,” said Segal.

Online reputation is something all professionals and businesses should be concerned about. However, recent local examples have indicated that strong-arming people who speak of bad experiences online is likely to generate even more negative publicity. Personally, while I can understand the rationale, I would be hesitant to use the services of a physician who took such an approach. One commenter shares this sentiment, opining, “Thanks for the warning. If asked to sign such a form, I’ll be shopping for a new MD.

A copy of the contract does not seem to appear on the Medical Justice website, so it is not entirely clear whether such an agreement would apply strictly to rating sites, or to blogs as well.

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