As consumer rating services online move beyond reviews of the best and worst restaurants in town to the quality of medical care offered by physicians, thousands of doctors are fighting back, or at least trying.
Using a service that supplies physicians with end-user license agreements (EULAs) for their patients, some doctors are essentially asking their patients to sign a waiver and agree to what amounts to a gag order that prohibits them from posting comments – good or bad – on the Internet about the medical services provided.
“Consumers and patients are hungry for good information” about doctors, but online reviews provide just the opposite, said Dr. Jeffrey Segal, a North Carolina neurosurgeon who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism. He added that some sites “are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices.” Segal said such postings do not provide patients with the information that is really important, which is a doctor’s medical skills. Some doctors also argue that such comments can unfairly ruin a doctor’s reputation.
“They’re basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive,” Swapceinski said. He added that he is planning to post a “Wall of Shame” listing names of doctors who use patient waivers.
Although a “Wall of Shame” might be a bit extreme, it reveals the type of backlash that await physicians – or any person or group, for that matter – who try to control the principles and utility of the Internet. The Internet is not just a series of tubes, it’s one of the most powerful communication vehicles created, so it’s imperative to tread lightly and not get burned.
Honestly, I wonder what the physicians using EULAs hope to gain. Who is to say that dissatisfied patients will not post negative comments under aliases? Granted, a physician’s reputation can be harmed by negative comments, but that is true for any person or company in any industry.
Making people decide between health care and First Amendment rights is not the answer. EULAs are not the answer. If you are a good physician and have been affected by negative comments, fight back the right way – respond, converse and utilize the tools the Internet has to offer to protect your personal brand. No one can contain the freedom of speech, so speak back and be heard. If nothing else, you won’t have to worry about being placed on the “Wall of Shame.”
Chris Rottler, Digital Strategist & Account Executive