The rise and impact of physician rating service has been a hot topic lately. In traditional media, blogosphere at large and this blog specifically.
Last year I wrote about an organization calling itself "Medical Justice". Their stated mission of "protecting physicians against frivolous lawsuits" is admirable. Unfortunately the ideas and methods are bound to sow distrust and undermine doctor patient relationship.
Anyways they are still making news, but there is a new twist:
iHealthBeat last week picked up a story from American Medical News, including an interview with Jeffrey Segal, MJ founder. There are no news in terms of how he keeps promoting his patient gag contracts, as I addressed the problems with those point by point earlier. The piece could get no quotes from any supporters other than Dr. Segal and offers no stats on how many docs bought into this idea. However the quotes from opponents (doctors and lawyers) are telling:
Alan Howard, a professor of law at St. Louis University, said there are potential problems associated with asking patients to sign the contract, especially if they are beneficiaries of publicly-funded health care programs. It is illegal to ask individuals to give up their First Amendment rights to receive goods or services paid for by the government, American Medical News reports.
Steve Feldman, professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University's School of Medicine in North Carolina, said it would not send a good message to patients to tell them prior to treatment that they are not allowed to post comments online about a physician's services. He said doctors should encourage feedback (Dolan, American Medical News, 6/9).
None of this of course means that libel is no longer a problem. Most online rating systems are worse than useless and physicans have very little recourse to respond to true libel, due to HIPAA confidentiality constraints. Unfortunately, some cures, like Medical Justice are worse than disease. Would you go to a doctor who wants to gag you before providing care? I would not.
I think the real way to address libel is through educating the public and adopting voluntary standards by online publishers.