Thursday, January 14, 2010

Open Your Mouth and Say Nothing

So apparently doctors don't like people complaining about them--how shocking.

Some docs, worried about their reputations, are trying to fight back against negative reviews, requiring patients to sign contracts — critics call them “gag orders” — promising not to post comments to public sites. Others ask patients to sign over copyright to future comments, hoping for leverage to have any nasty tags removed.

Complain about your doctor, and he can refuse to treat you?

There's another side to it, of course:

“There’s no venue for physicians to get their side of the story out,” said Segal, who notes that doctors can't respond to specific patients because doing so would violate federal privacy laws.

While some sites, like Angie's List, know who's posting, most don't identify or verify commenters, said Segal, who blasts that anonymity.

“You don’t know whether it’s a patient, an ex-employee, an ex-spouse or even a competitor," Segal said.

I understand the urge to fight back against someone complaining about you. But what's really disturbing to me are two things: first is the copyright idea. Let's look at that again:

Others ask patients to sign over copyright to future comments, hoping for leverage to have any nasty tags removed.

Wow. And I thought the RIAA overreached.

And secondly, there's this:

Patient will not denigrate, defame, disparage, or cast aspersions upon the Physician; and will use all reasonable efforts to prevent any member of their immediate family or acquaintance from engaging in any such activity,” reads the “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy”
The contracts typically limit patient comments for five years from the last doctor’s visit and they imply that breaking the terms could land the patients in court.

So let's say I signed onto this contract because this is the only doctor I know--let's face it, most of us work full time, may have restrictions on who we can see put on us by our insurance plans, and even if we didn't, shopping for doctors can be an exhausting experience, especially if you have something seriously wrong with you. Or worse yet, let's say most or all doctors adopt this practice, so I can't even rely on a "free market" approach of just hunting down a doctor who doesn't require this kind of contract. And my (hypothetical) doctor screws up and doesn't diagnose a brain tumor, and I die. If my family publicly complains that hey, this doctor is a quack who can't find a baseball-sized tumor, they can be hauled into court and sued for complaining in a public forum.

I actually understand the position of doctors--or really anyone--who are being anonymously criticized, sometimes unfairly, and sometimes may be lied about. But then again, without the protection of anonymity, people probably wouldn't publicly complain, and sometimes those complaints are earned. I can think of several off-hand as I sit here, but to be honest, I'm afraid to post them because I don't want to get any negative repercussions for the patients involved, since the situation is on-going.

And really, what I find disturbing isn't the idea of doctors being able to fight back and reclaim their reputations; what I find really scary is the idea of using copyright law to fight them, and of suing patients' families. Because my husband, who makes $15/hour and drives our rattling ten-year-old Ford Taurus, really doesn't have the right to challenge my Miata-driving doctor who makes $150,000 a year.

I hope he likes fixing that clunking noise it makes.

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