Like donut shop owners, city councilmen, and smalltown gossip victims, doctors aren’t terribly fond of patients leaving negative comments of them all over the Internet. They, however, aren’t taking the lawsuit route—at least not yet. Instead, doctors are asking patients to sign agreements that bar them from posting comments on everything from review sites to blogs, and then attempting to have the reviews removed if they break the gag order.
In fact, these doctors are going so far as enlisting the help of monitoring companies that watch for negative posts attempting to in check. One such company is (appropriately) called Medical Justice, founded by North Carolina neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Segal, whose entire business is built upon pushing patient waivers to doctors and then hunting out their commenting indiscretions online.
Segal advises the 2,000 or so doctors who employ his services to request that all patients sign the waiver. If someone refuses, he says the doctor should suggest going somewhere else, though Segal claims he has not heard of a case where a doctor has turned away a longtime patient.
What’s the point of all this, though? Customers are “hungry for good information,” Segal told the Associated Press, but that’s apparently not what they’re getting when reading sites like RateMDs.com or random blog posts about doctors. These “are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices,” he says, and could potentially damage a physician’s practice.
For their part, some sites that allow patients to review doctors are refusing to be bullied into taking down reviews, even if the reviewer in question has signed a waiver. “They’re basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive,” RateMDs cofounder John Swapceinsk told the AP. In fact, Swapceinsk is taking things a step further by putting up a Wall of Shame list of doctors who use patient waivers so that everyone can know who is engaging in these tactics.
Considering the upswing in review sites like Yelp and AngiesList, the public is growing accustomed to getting information like this from the Internet. Not every patient is going to offer a fair and balanced view of a doctor visit (just like not every Yelp reviewer has any idea what they’re talking about when they trash your favorite restaurant), but people should be to speak openly about their experiences.
Review sites will only continue to increase in popularity—though potential customers should always take what they read online with a grain of salt. Instead of fighting the trend, doctors need to embrace the new reality and maybe even use the reviews as an opportunity to improve themselves.
Jacqui Cheng, Condé Nast Digital