Trendspotter: Would You Ban Patients from Making Online Comments?

January 20, 2011

Physician profiling, by patients and payers, has become the norm these days, but it seems some doctors are putting a stop to any online comments about their service.Television station KDAF in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas recently ran a story about a local practice that is asking patients to sign a form prohibiting patients from making comments about their visit on the Internet, essentially, as the report says, "turning over editorial content over " to the physician.

"OK, so we'll see you back here in a month for a follow-up. Have a good day and remember, mum's the word on your visit here today - remember the agreement you signed. Thanks."

Physician profiling, by patients and payers, has become the norm these days, but it seems some doctors are putting a stop to any online comments about their service.

Television station KDAF in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas recently ran a story about a local practice that is asking patients to sign a form prohibiting patients from making comments about their visit on the Internet, essentially, as the report says, "turning over editorial content over " to the physician.

Yes, you read that right - a form for patients telling them not to leave your office, log on online, and express their thoughts, either on a physician profiling Web site orr their own Facebook profile, Twitter, or any other online platform. Nothing. Nada. Zero.

The report quotes Dr. Jeffrey Segal, founder of Medical Justice Services, which it seems is distributing the gag order forms to physicians under their anti-defamation services. Segal cites "erroneous online content" by patients and gives physicians the right to "correct or remove incorrect information without encroaching on patient confidentiality."

It seems the strategy is to shut down any comments by patients. By aiming at preventing negative comments, it would seem the gag order also blocks positive reviews from patients online. Patients, of course, have the right to not sign the waiver, but the report does not address the consequences of such action. One wonders if the practice can drop you as a patient for not agreeing to keep quiet on your experience.

Steven R. Feldman is a North Carolina-based dermatologist and founder of DrScore.com, a Web site where patients can anonymously share their experiences and rate their doctors. Feldman recently told Physicians Practice that the site is beneficial for physicians as it helps them improve their practice and competitive position in their marketplace.

"The beautiful thing about this from the doctor's perspective is that when it comes to a measurement of quality on the basis of patient satisfaction, doctor's have nothing to worry about," he says. "Doctors are exceedingly committed to providing their patients great medical care and patients, by and large, absolutely love their doctors. So using patient impressions to document quality to make patient impressions transparent for the public to see – none of that should be scary for American physicians."

Feldman says his site or even internal surveys are a must for physicians' practices these days to gauge everything from a doctor's demeanor with patients to how your front office staff is performing.

Some practice sites even list patient comments with replies to common questions or complaints. This can be everything from "Why do I have to wait so long?" to "Why does your office smell funny?" Practices have turned to being proactive, embracing patient questions, concerns, and feedback.

It seems the opposite is to prevent it completely - asking patients to not say anything about your practice, like the one in Texas.

Where do you stand when it comes to online comments about your service? Is it best to say nothing or stop everything?