Friday, June 17, 2011

Medical Justice? Hardly...

I saw this over at Ars Technica a while back.

As you may or may not know in the last few years medical practitioners, in what I think it is a pretty bad display of professionalism, have been suing people who post negative online reviews of their performance. Yes as in if I go to the dentist and they mess something up and I give a bad review they don't try to correct the mistake or work on preventing it from happening again, they just sue me to get my review taken down. Well it looks like someone has come up with a solution. Timothy B. Lee describes his encounter with this solution.
After the usual patient information form, there was a "mutual privacy agreement" that asked me to transfer ownership of any public commentary I might write in the future to Dr. Cirka. Surprised and a little outraged by this, I got into a lengthy discussion with Dr. Cirka's office manager that ended in me refusing to sign and her showing me the door.
It would seem that the organization Medical Justice has been providing its members with these forms.

I'm going to go straight to the point and ask if you know what this means. Imagine walking into your doctor's office after having made an appointment to have something looked at. Before going in to see the doctor you are asked to sign a form that gives ownership of any reviews that you write in the future about that office over to that doctor. Meaning that you would be stuck in a situation where you either have to give up ownership of any review you write later (meaning that even if what you say is true the doctor would have control of it and would be free to take it down) or go find another doctor. Now anyone who's dealt with medical insurance knows that finding another doctor is not quite as easy as finding another restaurant when your first choice is full.

However it might not be so clear cut. Lee took some time to find out just how effective that form would be.
We can't find any evidence that Medical Justice-style agreements have ever actually been used to censor online reviews. Dr. Cirka told Ars that he has never attempted to remove a fraudulent review using the copyright assignment policy. And Yelp told us that they "have never elected to remove a review in response this type of takedown request." The experts we talked to said they've gotten similar statements from other review sites.
As you can see its not as if Medical Justice has been rampantly taking down comments posted by patients who signed their forms. However I think the damage is done. What has happened is that even if that form holds no real power and its just an empty threat it still a threat and threats are meant to scare people. Chances are there are patients that have come across this form and have signed it out of need and are now scared to speak up if something went wrong. Let's not forget people who may have chosen not to get something important looked at until they can find a doctor that doesn't have those forms and we all know that in some cases medical issues should not be put off.

I don't think there will be a mass exodus or anything but I think it will generate more fear which is the last thing we need in this time when healthcare is shaky at best.