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Keeping Patients Quiet

Some things are just part of the problem in healthcare. The company Medical Justice is one such thing. I’ve written about them before. Medical Justice sees the medical malpractice crisis and devised a solution: Muzzle the patients. It’s as misguided as it is ridiculous.

Medical Justice says doctors need to stop their patients from saying bad things about them. They charge doctors hundreds — even thousands — of dollars a year to help do this.

Under one of their programs, they give doctors contracts to use with their patients. The doctor tells the patient that they must agree to the terms of the contract before the doctor agrees to see them.  Okay, so there are lots of forms that patients need to sign when they go to the doctor. What makes these so different?

Well, with these, the patient has to agree that they will not make anonymous comments on the Web about the doctor. They also have to agree that if they do make comments that aren’t anonymous they will only do it on sites that meet some “minimum standards of credibility.” If a patient does these things anyway, they’ve broken the agreement and are now subject to being sued by the doctor.

At least one source reports that Medical Justice has another feature in its agreements: Making patients transfer their copyright over these Web postings. That way, the doctor can then send a DMCA takedown notice and have the criticism removed from the Web right away. It’s quite a modern spin on bedside manner.

Think about what it would be like to be presented with these agreements at the doctor’s office. You’re there, sick, trying to get help. But instead of helping you in your time of need, your doctor’s first priority is making sure you don’t say anything on the Web about what he does. Well, unless he likes it. As a patient, the first thing I would think is: “Should I be worried about this guy?”

And this is why what Medical Justice does makes things worse. Patients are vulnerable, needing help, and looking to their doctor as that one source of certainty in a frightening world. Patients want to feel that the most important person in the doctor-patient relationship is them, the patient.

But by starting off the relationship with contracts like these, what the doctor is clearly saying to the patient is: “No, I’m the most important person in this relationship.” It disparages and undermines that sacred relationship between doctor and patient by treating it something like buying a used car.

There are patients who will follow their doctor into the grave if they trust them. And there are patients who won’t take the best advice in the world from a doctor who they don’t trust. Doctors who use Medical Justice must realize they are sowing the seeds of distrust.

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

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