Doctor contracts seek to silence unhappy patients

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on April 11, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 12 at 1:54 PM

DALLAS — Patients often find a physician by asking a friend, family member or another health care provider. However, a growing number of people are turning to the Internet to find doctors.

At dozens of free rating sites, MDs are graded with stars, numbers and even frowny faces. but, it's the the bad testimonies that have some doctors requiring patients to sign a contract promising they won't post comments without prior approval from the physician.

"I think they're frightening a lot of patients into saying, 'Wow, I have to sign this in order to get the medical services that I need,'" said Mark Britton Britton, CEO of Avvo.com, a review site that helps visitors choose doctors or lawyers.

Britton calls the agreements gag orders.

"I think that any time you have doctors or really any professional that is attempting to silence someone's free speech really - their opinions regarding a service they recieved - that's a really troubling trend," he said.

In fact, RateMDs.com has begun posting the names of doctors who require waivers to a "wall of shame."

Doctors, though, say the troubling trend is the reviews that allow anonymous and often disgruntled patients to vent publicly.

As an example, on one site News 8 found two reviews of one reputable North Texas doctor.

One was "highly recommended," while the other called the doctor "an incompetent piece of [expletive]."

Medical Justice is among the organizations trying to deter Internet defamation.

"Doctors are at the risk of having their reputations destroyed," said Dr. Jeffrey Segal, an online video posted on the Medical Justice website. "It takes a lifetime to build a reputation; it takes a minute and a mouse click to lose it."

About half of Medical Justice's members require their patients to sign the "mutual agreement" before treatment.

Doctors WFAA asked refuse to comment on the story. But, one doctor said he asks patients to sign because otherwise "people can get away with anything they want to say with no personal accountability."

Whether anonymous or not, doctors can't respond to specific complaints because of patient privacy laws. Until they can speak up, some doctors say they have no choice but to silence the attacks.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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