The Right to Write: Medical Justice Pulls Anti-Doctor Review Contracts

MakenzieR on 1 Dec 2011 at 4:00pm

The company that encourages doctors to ask you, the patient, to sign away your right to free speech on the Internet, is backing down in the winds of a law suit.

Medical Justice provides doctors and dentists with contracts that essentially prohibit their patients from writing negative things about them online.  To be more specific, they give the provider copyright ownership of whatever the patient writes about them.  So if you have a bad experience with your dermatologist and write about it on RealSelf, they could ask you to edit it or take it down because, technically, they own the rights to it.

A little discomforting?  Yes, according to some, because it infringes on our right to free speech.  In fact a whole website started in April in an attempt to educate consumers about this practice. 

So what happened to make Medical Justice, the defender of professional reputations, finally backtrack and admit their contracts were maybe not the best idea?

A short summary:

  • Medical justice backs downRobert Lee had a bad toothache, and he went to see a dentist, Dr. Stacy Makhnevich.
  • While in immense amount of pain, Lee signed a Medical Justice-type contract so he could get relief for his toothache.
  • Mistakes with insurance reimbursement and access to medical files left Lee with a poor taste in his mouth about Dr. Makhnevich, and he expressed his frustration in various online review forums.
  • Dr. Makhnevich asked Lee to take down comments, citing a “privacy agreement” he signed
  • Lee didn’t.
  • Dr. Makhnevich started billing Lee $100/day for copyright infringement for as long as his reviews stayed online.
  • Lee contacted Public Citizen to fight back.

According to Public Citizen, “This suit, which seeks class-action status, contends that the agreement Lee was required to sign is unconscionable and should be declared null and void.”

While the suit is still pending, Medical Justice released this statement yesterday:

“We understand that one issue in the case involves our doctor/patient agreements on patient comments about quality of care.  While we believe these agreements are honest, ethical, and legal, we are going to use this situation as an opportunity to retire these written agreements used since 2007.

While the retraction of Medical Justice agreements is a good thing for patients’ rights, it will likely concern some of the 3000 doctors MJ claims as members.

The power of online reviews is mighty and growing.  However, many doctors focus too heavily on the strength held in the negative reviews, while turning a blind eye to the benefits of positive ones. 

Instead of focusing on the inability to control the negative, perhaps Medical Justice can help doctors shift their focus to how to get pleased patients to write as passionately as the dissatisfied ones.  This small change will build a strong online reputation without infringing on anybody’s right to free speech.

Click here for the full story around Robert Lee’s law suit.

Photo credit: Mike Licht, on flickr; Medical Justice