In this era of transparency, doctorsÛª ratings are all the rage. In a case of freedom of speech meets the bureaucracy, Dr. Jeffrey Segal, IÛªm afraid to say from my state of North Carolina has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism.
His company, Medical Justice, is based in Greensboro, N.C. For a fee, it provides doctors with a standardized waiver agreement. Patients who sign agree not to post online comments about the doctor, “his expertise and/or treatment.”
Segal’s company advises doctors to have all patients sign the agreements. If a new patient refuses, the doctor might suggest finding another doctor. Segal said he knows of no cases where longtime patients have been turned away for not signing the waivers.
Doctors are notified when a negative rating appears on a Web site, and, if the author’s name is known, physicians can use the signed waivers to get the sites to remove offending opinion.
Nearly 2,000 doctors have signed up. John Swapceinski, co-founder of RateMDs.com, said that in recent months, six doctors have asked him to remove negative online comments based on patients’ signed waivers. “They’re basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive,” Swapceinski said.
Segal said the waivers are aimed more at giving doctors ammunition against Web sites than against patients. Still, the company’s suggested wording warns that breaching the agreement could result in legal action against patients.
Attorney Jim Speta, a Northwestern University Internet law specialist, questioned whether such lawsuits would have much success.
For the good, the bad and the ugly, these rating sites are here to stay. Frankly I think SegalÛªs company is just out to make a buck. What do you think?