Trashed on the Internet: What Should You Do?

Gail Garfinkel Weiss, BBA, MSW

Disclosures

January 04, 2010

In This Article

Take Preemptive Action

Neurosurgeon Jeffrey Segal, founder and CEO of Medical Justice -- an organization that focuses on deterring frivolous malpractice claims and protecting physicians' online reputations -- sees several problems with physician rating sites. "Primarily, many of them are anonymous; you can't tell whether the person posting is a patient, a disgruntled employee, a competitor, even an ex-spouse," he says.

Medical Justice, which is based in Greensboro, North Carolina, aims to give physicians a tool to address what Segal calls "the dark side of the Web." For a time, Medical Justice advised physicians to ask patients to sign a "mutual agreement," which specified that the patient had to get the physician's written permission before posting Internet comments about that physician.

"We've since changed philosophically as the world has changed," says Segal. "The current iteration of the agreement doesn't prohibit patients from posting comments on the Internet, but assigns the doctor the copyright to that content. The doctor can then use this ownership of the copyright to get fictional or fraudulent posts removed."

According to Segal, most patients are willing to sign these agreements. "We've taken great pains to balance the interests of patients and physicians, and we think the copyright agreement does exactly that," he says.

Medical Justice provides templates of the copyright agreement to its members. Segal recommends that both new and established patients be asked to sign, although he indicates that in his experience physicians rarely dismiss established patients who refuse to sign. "Long-term relationships become long-term for a reason. They are built on trust," he says.

Scott Shapiro, senior vice president of corporate communications for HealthGrades, sees the Medical Justice approach as "a rational response to the loss of control of one's reputation online."

Nonetheless," he adds, "I'd also say that they're swimming against the tide."

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