I first saw this as a link from Seth Godin and then again from a reader Brian Jaffe. There are some serious issues here and in my mind it is not clear at all as to who is right or even more right than the other guy.
The issue is negative online reviews and what to do about them. This site “Medical Justice” is dedicated to protecting medical providers (Mostly physicians yet of course most of the issues apply equally to dentists). Here is how they describe themselves on the main page:
Run by physicians for physicians, Medical Justice is a membership-based organization that offers proven services and proprietary methods to protect physicians’ most valuable assets – their practice and reputation.
Medical Justice has launched a service, that is a membership contract agreement, to restrict what patients can say online. Here is how they describe the solution:
We crafted a solution that balances the rights and expectations of patients with the concerns of doctors. Mutual Agreements do not create a choice between healthcare and one’s right to free speech (as some have erroneously claimed). Far from it. We recognize that medical errors can and do occur. There are existing processes and viable venues where patients can report bad experiences with physicians. For example, other doctors, lawyers, friends, state licensing boards, civil court and more.
Read the whole thing for details. There is a lot there including the following, which I find persuasive.
Problem 1: On rating sites, patients, or people posing as patients- such as disgruntled employees, ex-spouses, or competitors can damage a hard-earned reputation. And a doctor has no recourse. As an arcane nuance of cyberlaw, the web sites are immune from any accountability. (Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act). Many sites have generally taken the position they will not monitor or police any content.
Problem 2: In the U.S., the antidote to offensive speech is generally more speech. However, physicians are foreclosed from posting the medical record to correct any factual inconsistencies. As it should be. Both patients and doctors place a higher premium on privacy.
In my opini0n online reviews have become very powerful and will become even more so in the future. As stated above there is little or no recourse for a doctor who has been maligned online. The fact that almost all reviews are anonymous seems to contribute to the abuse. One of the more odious results of this is that certain online review sites are selling what seems almost like a protection racket. In order to monitor and react to online reviews the doctor must become a member of the site and pay a fee.
On the other hand I believe strongly in the power of an open and transparent Internet to provide accurate information. My natural instinct is to encourage the free exchange of information. This brings us to the site Godin linked cleverly called “Doctored Reviews” Here is what they have to say about Medical Justice contracts which they called a “poison pill”:
Medical Justice sells contracts to doctors—we call them “anti-review contracts”— that either expressly prohibit patients’ online reviews or permit patients to post online reviews so long as doctors can remove them whenever they want. In exchange for these restrictions, the contracts promise patients purportedly greater privacy. However, this privacy promise is illusory, and the restrictions these contracts impose on online reviews are a bad deal for patients—and everyone else.
This site has all kinds of links for patients and web site owners on what to do if challenged and the validity of contracts etc. In many ways I am sympathetic to the concept of a free and transparent Internet but am still greatly troubled by the obvious abuses I have seen. In addition the site “Doctored Reviews” is created and maintained by lawyers who have an obvious conflict of interest. I can’t help but feel the issue with the lawyers is not so much free speech as it is easy access to disgruntled patients they can manipulate into malpractice clients.
As I said the issues are real they are serious and there is no simple solution. On the one hand as professionals our reputation is precious and there should be some way for us to protect ourselves from malicious negative reviews. On the other hand the free flow of information between patients and others should ultimately improve overall patient care.