Doctors Use Contracts To Restrict Patients' Online Comments

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Some physicians who are concerned about disgruntled patient complaints online are asking their patients to sign a contract in which they promise not to post any comments about their experience online without the physician's approval, the American Medical News reports.

Medical Justice, a company that offers products and services aimed at reducing malpractice lawsuits, created the contract to help physicians reduce or eliminate the risk of having malicious information posted online about them.

Medical Justice calls the contracts a "vaccine against libel." It is unclear how many of the company's 1,700 physician members are using the contracts.

Jeffrey Segal, founder and CEO of Medical Justice, said most online physician rating sites are so new that they have not found a balance between being helpful to patients and being fair to physicians.

Segal added that it is difficult and expensive for physicians to win a libel or defamation lawsuit against a patient who posted comments online.

Opposition to Contracts

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).


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