Consumer Affairs vowes to Medical Justice provides doctors with gag orders to prevent negative physician reviews

A reader sent me the link to this article, thanks!

Doctors Gagging Patients
Physicians insist patients aren’t competent to criticize them

By Jon Hood
ConsumerAffairs.com

March 5, 2009

Recent news reports have focused attention on a long-established but little-noticed practice: doctors forcing their patients to sign forms promising not to post an online review of the physician’s performance. The forms are provided by Medical Justice, a company whose website describes it as “relentlessly protecting physicians from frivolous lawsuits.”

Medical Justice owner Jeffrey Segal, himself a physician, insists that online medical reviews “are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices,” and defends his business as trying to prevent frivolous malpractice lawsuits.

Indeed, the company’s website loudly proclaims that, “While Medical Justice is sensitive to the fact there are legitimate claims by patients who have been harmed by negligent care, the fact remains that the majority of medical malpractice cases are ultimately deemed without merit.” The site further claims that, while eight to ten percent of doctors nationwide are sued for malpractice, that number drops to less than one percent for those who use Medical Justice’s services.

Medical Justice charges $1,500 for a one-year membership, which includes the right to use the generic gag order form, an “early action strategy” to be executed if the member is sued for malpractice, and a “pre-emptive critical practice infrastructure” to deter potential plaintiffs who are considering bringing an action. The plan also promises a pursuit of counterclaims against expert witnesses.

Almost 2,000 doctors have signed up since the service began two years ago.

The company encourages doctors to have all patients sign the “gag order” forms, and to tell them to go somewhere else if they refuse. While Segal insists that the forms are meant as a shot across the bow against Web sites, the form’s language warns that patients who breach its terms could also be subject to legal action.

While the forms may seem draconian, it’s unclear whether a court would uphold them. A court could potentially find that the unequal nature of the doctor-patient relationship makes the forms voidable; since patients place a large amount of trust in their doctors, the physician arguably has the upper hand in any agreements he or she enters into with the patient.

Additionally, the threat of withholding medical service unless the patient signs the form could be seen as a kind of undue influence and, in some cases, could subject the physician to sanctions by state licensing boards.

Whether the form is enforceable or not, the physicians who fork over the $1,500 for the comprehensive plan will likely still find harsh words about them online. That’s because at least one Web site — RateMDs.com — publishes comments anonymously and has no idea who posts on their site. Cofounder John Swapceinski has also refused several recent requests from doctors to remove the complaints altogether.

Swapceinski isn’t shy in making his opinion about Medical Justice known. As he recently told the Associated Press, “They’re basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive.” He’s planning to start a “Wall of Shame” listing the doctors who subscribe to the service.

More to come

A spokesman for ConsumerAffairs.com, which has not routinely published consumer complaints about doctors, said most of the complaints it receives do not deal with malpractice issues but with billing disputes and the physician’s general attitude towards patients.

Given the attempt by Medical Justice to help doctors gag patients, however, ConsumerAffairs.com said it would immediately begin publishing complaints about doctors and dentists and would search its database for previously unpublished complaints.

Medical Justice, meanwhile, claims it’s all for online physician ratings — but claims it wants them done right. On its blog, the company says it is “exploring” partnering with online ratings company Drsource.com, which Medical Justice views as “the one site pushing a scientifically validated survey methodology.” In the same blog entry, the organization defends its practices as necessary in an industry where doctors can’t respond to unwarranted feedback from “people posing as patients — such as disgruntled employees, ex-spouses, or competitors.”

The problem with this argument is that it could be made about any industry — lawyers, realtors, and car mechanics all run the risk that someone with a chip on their shoulder will post a scathing review that happens to be entirely false. It begs the question whether such risk comes with the business. If all else fails, though, there’s always RateMDs.com.

I’m very glad to see ConsumerAffairs.com and RateMDs.com take a stand to censorship.

However, where is the LISTING of all these doctors who gag their patients?

INSTEAD of being put in the very awkward position to find out at the doctor’s office that they are being gagged, patients should be able to look up online which doctors to AVOID.

And of course the ability to use and enforce these gag orders has to be litigated. 

Or could we dare hope for Congress and President Obama to oppose such vile censorship, designed ONLY to allow doctors to commit malpractice with impunity?

I’d like to see some doctors speak out against censorship.

I know that not ALL doctors suck!

I’m too busy right now, but of course I’ll post MY complaint at ConsumerAffairs.com.



3 Responses to “Consumer Affairs vowes to Medical Justice provides doctors with gag orders to prevent negative physician reviews”

  1. Christine
    Keep the faith
    This statement :
    “Medical Justice, meanwhile, claims it’s all for online physician ratings — but claims it wants them done right”

    Done right according to WHO may I ask?

    Since there are NO statutory regulations involving this
    issue of rating physicians or commenting on their services online in any way.
    The only law that applies to publication of untruths is “defamation” And if the statements are NOT proven to be libelous [without fact or truth] then a lawsuit can be thrown out as this one should be.
    Any judge who rules that linking to another person’s post that is being accused of defamation should be thrown off the bench.[When CNN reports on a charge of defamation by a person, should CNN be sued for providing a link to that person’s blog?]

    As a matter of fact, accusing Christine of defamation in a public forum [not in a court since that does not count] in
    ITSELF is defamation
    Talk about the pot vs the kettle???

    Also – who does this person who runs Medical
    Justice think he is??? He does NOT create laws.
    His service to provide the “gag” contracts
    carries no weight. Such contracts if signed by patients should be viewed as nothing more that a Mafia type protection threat like — “no gag- no treatment”
    He must be laughing all the way to the bank-

  2. I am a physician. I think these forms are great.
    Should anyone have a complaint against a phsyician the appropriate place to take it it the state licensing board for the physician. Or contract a malpractice lawyer. Posting ratings of doctors on the internet reflects nothing but your perception of your personal social interaction with that doctor. It does not reflect the doctors competence. We are bound legally by extreme laws protecting your privacy. I expect the same level of respect towards my work and commitment. I support these forms fully. And since this site pre-approves each posting, Im betting that this message never even sees the light of day.

  3. I totally agree with Kitty, SECRECY is never justice and Congress SHOULD create legislation to prohibit these contracts as the CLEARLY violate our 1st Amendment rights.

    Dr. “Jon”, you obviously don’t have much confidence in your doctoring skills.

    Just like you, I work with people under a great deal of stress, people who are harassed and sued by debt collectors, depressed and sometimes very frustrating to work with. But unlike you, I am confident that I am doing the best job that CAN be done. I’m an expert and extremely qualified.

    Of course I can’t guarantee that I get suits for valid debts dismissed or get legitimate credit reporting deleted, just like a doctor can’t guarantee that cancer will be cured. What counts is that we make the best effort.

    When my clients have the “perception” that I’m full of crap and screwed them up, they are certainly free to post all the gruesome details on the web or take out a full page ad in the WSJ or anywhere else. I can say that because unlike you, I have integrity and I’m confident that I do quality work.

    And, unlike you, I have the guts to say who I am.

    “Should anyone have a complaint against a phsyician the appropriate place to take it it the state licensing board for the physician.”

    I totally agree that consumers SHOULD submit their complaints as I will submit my complaint against perjurer doctor Hollander, BUT, it must be a PUBLIC complaint.

    The medical mafia keeps the complaints secret, just like the lawyer mafia — so that you can CONTINUE with your deplorable conduct, possibly KILLING people with your negligence and malpractice.

    It’s up to us to publicize how your misconduct and warn potential victims.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.