Some M.D.s Try to Amputate Online Reviews

By Eliza Strickland | March 6, 2009 2:14 pm

medical recordsSome doctors are so concerned about being negatively reviewed on Web sites like Yelp, RateMDs, and Angie’s List that they are asking patients to sign gag orders that bar them from posting negative online reviews. A company called Medical Justice, which seeks to protect doctors against medical malpractice claims, advices doctors to have each patient sign the non-disclosure agreement–and if the patient refuses, to turn him away.

“Consumers and patients are hungry for good information” about doctors, but Internet reviews provide just the opposite, contends Dr. Jeffrey Segal, a North Carolina neurosurgeon [and the founder of Medical Justice]. Some sites “are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices,” and their sniping comments can unfairly ruin a doctor’s reputation, Segal said [AP]. About 2,000 doctors have signed up for the service since it was launched two years ago. Segal claims that privacy laws and medical ethics prevent doctors from defending themselves on the review sites.

For each doctor customer, Medical Justice periodically checks review Web sites for the doctor’s name, and compiles any negative reviews. Some sites, like Angie’s List, know the names of all reviewers and will share them with doctors if asked. If it finds comments submitted by a person who signed a waiver, the company produces the waiver and asks the site to take the comments down [Computer World].

But other review sites say that doctors should simply get used to having their services reviewed, just like every restaurant and hair salon has. 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. He has refused. “They’re basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive,” Swapceinski said. He said he’s planning to post a “Wall of Shame” listing names of doctors who use patient waivers [AP].

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Stephanie

    Doctors really don’t have a chance in stopping the consumer-generated health care train that is coming their way. There is no way to fight consumers who want to exercise their right to speak out about their doctors. The goal here is to accept these sites, which are getting more and more everyday, and the niche sites like MyDocHub.com and RateMds.com are better poised than overall rating sites like Angies List and Yelp to help consumers navigate the doctor ratings and reviews websites.

  • Angry

    Screw you, doctors.

  • Clute

    I think that sites like this can be very harmfull. Just think if my business is not going to well I can WOMF my opposition and there is nothing anybody can do. Or what of groups of people (like hackers) going out of their way to harm somebodies reputation? Just because they can.
    Are the any watchdogs watching out for the innocents on these sites?

  • http://www.HonestMedicine.com Julia Schopick

    Stephanie is right: Doctors really don’t have a chance in stopping the consumer-generated health care train that is coming their way. And Dr. Segal is wrong – very wrong – to try to muzzle patients. My best guess is that patients are posting their angry comments online because they can’t find any other way to get their doctors to listen to their concerns.

    According to the AP article, Dr. Segal remarked that some of these websites “are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices.”

    Here’s the problem with Dr. Segal’s point of view: He doesn’t seem to realize that most patients would probably PREFER to offer constructive criticism to their doctors. The problem is that, generally, doctors don’t want our criticism, even when it’s constructive.

    When my husband Tim died in 2005, he was a 15 year survivor of a deadly cancerous brain tumor. Many times during those 15 years, we were treated disrespectfully by doctors. (Specialists were particularly disrespectful.) There were also times, during Tim’s many hospital stays, when mistakes occurred; these mistakes were often life-threatening.

    I discovered that, whether a doctor had simply been rude, or whether harm was about to be inflicted on my husband, my input was not only NOT encouraged; it was vehemently rejected. Once, a doctor even threatened to have me escorted out by guards for pointing out a potentially life-threatening error in his treatment of my husband. (Before this “mistake” on my part, this doctor and I had gotten along very well!)

    I am a public relations consultant by profession. Ironically, in that capacity, I had already written several guest columns for the AMA publication, “American Medical News” on the topic of practice promotion for doctors. So, I was given the go-ahead to write several expert guest columns on topics relating to doctor-patient communication.

    I wrote several columns, but sadly, I doubt that they made any impact on the physician/readers of this AMA publication. In fact, the editor told me that the only response she got was from a physician who complained that a layperson had been ALLOWED to advise doctors about how to treat patients!

    So, are doctors open to criticism (constructive or otherwise) from their patients? I think not. Hence the rising popularity of these physician-rating websites!

    Julia Schopick
    Medical Writer/Patient Advocate
    http://www.HonestMedicine.com

  • http://www.healthcarereviews.com Charles

    Doctors have been free from scrutiny, now they’re getting it online at doctor rating sites like HealthcareReviews.com Can you blame them for trying to stifle these websites, who wouldn’t like to work in a job free from scrutiny?

    It’s only a matter of time before more progressive doctors actually encourage patients to go there, so they will get a more accurate, and most likely better overall review. By discouraging people to rate them they will only get very angry patients rating them and a very skewed online rating.

  • Michael

    Before I even heard of this issue with doctors, I was in that small minority of educated, rational people who would never take anything posted on a web site seriously.

    * How do you know that the reviewers do not have a vested interest, either in favor of or against the person, corporation or product they are reviewing?

    * Even if they are not biased, how do you know if they know what they’re talking about? Most people don’t. I never cease to be amazed at how ignorant the average American is. According to a poll by the Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University, 63% of Americans said that antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. And are you surprised to see that almost every newspaper contains a horoscope?
    Many people will claim that a doctor was incompetent, because their loved one died under his care, regardless of how hopeless their condition was. Doctors cannot make us live forever.

    I would like more information on the doctors I visit or might consider visiting, but I need credible information. I need information that has been investigated and vetted to see whether the complaint was a valid one.

    For me, this is not an issue about doctors specifically; it’s about all information on the Web. It’s about a healthy sense of skepticism.

  • Georgina

    RateMD’s is disingenuous about their aim to help patients. Their aim is to make money selling advertising–period end of story. As a health care consumer how can I possibly take seriously comments from anonymous people who are able to post multiple times either for or against a given doctor? RateMD’s says that they don’t allow multiple posts for one doc from the same IP. Not true. I did a test and rated a random doc multiple times from one computer with one IP. My ratings affected his overall rating greatly–and I was never even his patient! That fact means that anyone can drive a doctor’s rating way up or way down and we the ignorant think, oh look at these ratings from real patients.

    I agree with the poster who said docs can post against their competition. The same way doctor’s staff and/or family can post in favor of him or her. The RateMD’s model is completely bogus. I agree that doctor’s have had the balance of power for too long but these anonymous rating systems are not the answer. Data needs to be vetted and verified as Michael said. As one review of Ratemd’s said–half of the reviews looked like they were written by the types of crackpots who regularly call in to talk radio to blow off steam. Casual observation will reveal there are lots of angry people on the internt regardless or whether they are rating their local coffee shop, their hair dresser or their dry cleaner.

    In any case if these rating sites get to be too much of a problem various organizations within each medical speciality will probably band together and agree to require their patients to sign a non-disclosure clause. If every ENT or every Ob-Gyn does this then patients will end up right back where they were. The one doc who refuses to make his patients sign a non-disclosure will end up looking desparate for business. Or maybe the AMA will decide to put their considerable resources and lobbyin power against these sites demanding that people who rate provide valid e-mail addresses and names. While people who post on the internet think they can’t be sued because of the First Amendment, they can, especially if there is malice and their comments without proof are afffection someone’s (anyone, not just a doc) ability to earn a living.

  • puttputt

    medicine has become politicized and commercialized, where doctors are only admitted to medical school for political purposes or to benefit the insurance industry. There are no real doctors anymore.

  • David

    I totally agree with Georgina. I am dentist and have had several conversations with Jay Swapceinski. He has unilaterally removed comments without verifying whether they were true or not. Even negative comments are not validated. He won’t require that someone log to verify they are a actually a real patient. All he cares about is generating traffic so he can get more advertisers. He is not really interested in the best interests of the patient. He has gone onto create websites ratemyprofessor, ratemyteacher, ratemyawyer ratebiz.com etc.- this just a business for him …… look, the public should be able to rate all professionals as long as it not false or libelous and there accountability for what you write. If it is true then you have nothing to worry about. But RateMds lack of verification of comments by posters makes it lack credibility and hence provide little value. At least even for Google reviews you have to log in..

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