The progression of technology has made today’s patient an active and informed health care consumer. Patients can easily find information about symptoms, join chat rooms about disorders, and potentially have a diagnosis in mind—all before stepping into the physician waiting room. You might be surprised to also know how much they’ve researched you. Much of the buzz with the Internet turning 40 years old is the “end of privacy.” With the “end of privacy,” you, as a physician, need to be diligent about distributing, monitoring, and protecting what has and will be made public about you and your practice. While there are methods to protect your image, they could potentially end up damaging your reputation.
At sites like RateMDs.com, where more than 200,000 doctors have been rated, commenters don’t hold anything back. That’s not to say all the comments are damaging; posts vary from disturbing accusations to heartwarming stories of interventions and cures. Some doctors appear to have built an impressive reputation through posts about the clinician’s professionalism and expertise or how the doctor saved a patient’s or a child’s life.
But if you’re leery about placing your reputation in the hands of the online community, you might want to consider working with a company that aims to stop defamation of doctors on the Internet. One such company, Medical Justice Services Inc, has come up with proprietary contract language in which the patient agrees beforehand to respect their physician’s privacy on the Internet the same way that the physician respects the patient’s privacy in their office practice.
At the moment, given recent court decisions, Medical Justice’s methods may actually be the only way that doctors can protect themselves against libel and slander, according to Jeffrey Segal, MD, founder and president of Medical Justice Services. “We at Medical Justice have had a lot of success with contracts in which patients agree not to sue their physicians for frivolous reasons,” said Segal.
The problem with such a contract, says Robert Lindsey, MS, RPSGT, director of sleep services at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, Jasper, Ga, is that it could cause patients to question the type of care they would receive.
“I can’t imagine why a reputable practice would impose such a contract,” he says. “This immediately places the provider in an adversarial relationship with the patient. As a patient, it would make me suspicious of the care I may get (and that others have gotten before me) or that lesser quality care and service has recently been administered by that practice.”
According to a Sleep Review Web poll, approximately 65.5% of readers side with Lindsey, indicating that they wouldn’t require such a contract.
As more people turn to sites like RateMDs.com for information, you should be monitoring what is being said about you. Be proactive and weigh your options carefully—your reputation depends on it.
—Franklin A. Holman,