Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Medical Justice" makes no sense on so many levels

Hi, I'm Dr. Visvanathan.  Please come into my office.  Before I provide you with high-quality, compassionate care, I'd like you to sign this agreement that you won't bad-mouth me publicly.

According to the American company, Medical Justice, this is how all my patient visits should start.

This story is a jaw-dropper.   Medical Justice markets itself as protector of physicians' reputations.  The problem, they say, is that anyone can anonymously blacken a physician's reputation via the internet, particularly on doctor rating sites (such as RateMDs).  The physician has limited recourse.  Medical Justice's solution is to have all a physician's patients sign an agreement that allows the physician to remove from the internet any unwanted comments the patient may post.

Doctor rating sites - and their use and misuse - aren't a new story.  Back when (now defunct) Plain Brown Wrapper was the international sensation everyone was talking about, I posted about an experiment I tried using RateMD, one of the doctor rating services.  Rather than try to shut down patient comments, I left a message on my rating page inviting comments, but challenging people to leave constructively critical comments.

My post on the site said: "Hi, it's Kishore Visvanathan here.  Thanks for leaving a comment on RateMD.  I'd like to use your comments as a way to improve the service I give.  If you have any concerns about the care I provided to you, please make a constructive comment about how I can improve."

Actually, I'm paraphrasing, because when I visited the site for the first time in a long time (prompted by writing this post), I found that my invitation for constructive criticism had been removed.  Interesting...  I wonder if they are concerned that doctors might subvert the original purpose of RateMDs, and actually turn it into a way that doctors and patients could have a dialogue about improving quality?

Other doctors have different approaches to RateMDs.  As do some medical students.

I digress.

If Medical Justice wants docs to worry about anonymous comment posting, how will "asking" patients to sign their agreement help.  Anonymous posting is... difficult to track.  I presume they're willing to make the effort to force website managers to cough up the names of the offending posters.

Most importantly, if a doctor is so worried about his/her reputation, why not earn that reputation through consistent efforts to improve service?  Sure, there will always be people who have an unhappy experience and want to gripe publicly about it.  I doubt that they would be thwarted by the Medical Justice gag agreement.

Medical Justice's legal circling-the-wagons drives a wedge between physician and patient.  We should invite feedback from our patients.  Some comments may be personal and painful to hear.  Those are the ones to pay close attention to.

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