Doctors Say They Own Your Reviews—a Prescription for Legal High Jinks

By Veronique Greenwood | May 24, 2011 2:35 pm

release
If you talk smack on Yelp, it’s coming down.

What’s the News: Sign here, here, here, and here—that’s the first thing your doctor’s office asks you to do. Chances are, you’re not reading the forms too closely. But tucked in there might be a little clause that goes something like this: “all your online reviews are belong to us.” And if you refuse to sign it, they’ll refuse to see you.

Doctors and dentists have started including this language, provided by an organization called Medical Justice, in their releases in an effort to keep negative online reviews from going up on sites like Yelp. But, as Ars Technica found, there are about a million different ways that this is both silly and pointless.

How the Heck:

  • First of all, although the clause is said to be for use only against nonpatients who post fraudulent reviews (according to the dentist’s office where the Ars writer first encountered it), there’s no way for a doctor to know who a reviewer is. On the internet, as the saying goes, no one knows you’re a dog. Moreover, nonpatients have obviously never signed the release, so any doctor tampering with their reviews would be in serious legal trouble.
  • Then, the clause likely doesn’t hold legal water—the primary situations in which people sign away to the rights to future works are employer-employee relationships, and you are not your doctor’s employee. So it probably wouldn’t stand in court, says Ars. It’s furthermore a near certainty that no self-respecting reviewing site is going to agree to take down negative reviews without some serious proof that they’re illegitimate.
  • Ars asked around and concluded that no doctor’s office has yet taken action on this clause, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had a chilling effect. If people think that their doctor is poring over their reviews and spiking the ones that don’t gush, they might not bother to write at all. And as anyone who’s had to find a new doctor knows, the negative reviews are key to getting a sense of the practice.

The Future Holds: Doctors need all the help they can get with frivolous lawsuits, and Medical Justice, which comes out from this affair looking pretty ridiculous, if not flat-out malevolent, might do some decent work in that department. But this is an area of defamation law where doctors don’t need to call in the armies. If they’re worried, maybe they need to do what other business owners do: ramp up their customer service and engage negative reviewers to see if they can rectify the wrong.

(via Ars Technica)

Image credit: eelke dekker/flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://www.carerally.com Care Rally

    I can definitely see where doctors are coming from here, one bad review that’s all it might take to lose business. However, like you said, review sites give the doctor opportunity to rectify the situation.

    CareRally has a feature where doctors can endorse other doctors. This provides benefits for all parties involved. It allows doctors to focus less on the reviews and more on their practice, as peer reviews speak volumes.

  • PF

    If a doctor does a poor job, or if a patient is displeased with the work performed for the enormous amounts of money doctors charge, then they should have every right to review them negatively. The easiest way to get rid of bad reviews? Improve your practice. Take better care of your patients. If a patient feels that they had their needs met, were treated with respect and courtesy, and left feeling good, then negative reviews will no doubt disappear. Instead of docs spending their time trying to bring the negative reviewers to court, they should focus on improving their quality of care so reviews like that will naturally disappear.

    Patients pay too much to have a negative experience at a doctor’s office. I don’t understand why they need to have their mouths taped shut by the docs in the process. It just legitimizes them practicing poorly, knowing that the patient can’t say anything about it. I for one hope this clause cannot hold up in court.

  • Pat

    There are so many doctors now who want to make it easier for themselves to put less effort into doing their jobs properly by covering their asses so their clients won’t get upset at them.

  • drkala

    I suppose the thing to do would be to add “All your medical records [pertaining to our visits] belong to me.” That seems to be the corresponding claim to any work by the other person that emerges from the encounter.

  • Scott Finnell

    Personally, I have never reviewed a doctor on a website, and I wonder how many other people do? I usually feel sick when I go to a doctor, and I don’t think about reviewing them. I have not had any doctors so far that I would give a bad review to. My main doctor works for a corporation, so they send out review letters for us to review everyone in the office, and so far, it has worked because several people were no longer working there after the reviews came out.

  • Abby

    It’s a sad truth that there are doctors who are preoccupied with ensuring that they will not be brought up in court on charges, whether rightfully or in misunderstanding.

    However, there are likely just as many patients who would complain because their physician won’t follow the “expected” or “desirable” diagnosis and treatment plan. The physician is now faced with choosing between a negative review/losing business and caving in= antibiotic resistance.

    Although I do agree with the simple statement that negative reviews would eventually disappear by acting more like a business and focusing on customer service; however, I’m not sure people would be happy with that result either. Obviously a balance has to be reached, and I doubt that our current insurance situation will really allow that.

    The internet forum has opened up incredible possibilities for understanding a product or service before trying it yourself; however, I would hope that most people understand that reading the reviews of a physician, when the majority of reviewers have no medical background, should be viewed differently than reading the reviews of the local hair salon.

  • Anon

    Gee, it would be great then if physicians could read reviews of their patients or potential patients. It seems it might go both ways.

    I would assume physicians have an obligation to try to treat all patients equally and with respect. It does not seem that the reverse is true. Though I suspect that neither party are always at their best.

    And physicians can’t sue their patients either, but patients can sue their physicians, whether or not there turns out to be merit or not.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    The public is bombarded HOURLY with medical ‘news’ ads. The public then seeks out these new miracle drugs.
    How many of you want antibiotics for your colds? Ha! One person is too many, colds come from a family of virus and antibiotics are useless against virae, yet J.Q. Public insists they need them.
    A doctor that actually practices medicine and refuses to give you what you ask for is subject to negative reviews AND if it’s you, you’ll go find another doctor who will give you what your advertising education (vs his/her real medical education) has told you that you need.

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