Gag Orders for U.S. Patients breaches 1st Amendment Rights

From Dr. William Douglass’s newsletter:

First amendment a last priority for some docs

Dear Friend,

If you’ve ever seen an old re-run of Dr. Marcus Welby, M.D., you probably think you’re watching a depiction of medical care not just from a different time, but a different planet. The homey, personal attentions of Dr. Welby bear absolutely zero resemblance to today’s vast and faceless medical bureaucracy that shuttles patients through the system with all the TLC of a cattle drive.

There was a time when doctors like myself were saddened by the passing of this bygone era. But it appears that the current crop of docs doesn’t share my sentimentality. Case in point… some doctors are now asking patients to sign an agreement that they won’t post negative comments about their experiences online.

That’s right: it’s a gag order to keep patients from letting other patients know that a doctor’s got a crummy bedside manner.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Segal founded a company called Medical Justice to help doctors track and prevent online critiques from the patients. So far, about 2,000 doctors have signed on with Segal’s company.

If patients sign the agreement, they’re promising to refrain from posting any online comments referring to a given doctor’s “expertise and/or treatment.” Medical Justice then monitors the web and removes any online comments that violate the agreement.

If patients decide not to sign the waiver, Segal tells doctors to send them packing.

It’s all very 1984. It’s like agreeing to eat at a restaurant on the condition that you won’t tell anyone what the food is like. And I think it stinks.

Not long ago, I told you about a study of nearly 1000 breast cancer patients which revealed that about half of them said their doctor’s explanation of the condition, its diagnosis, and treatment options was insufficient, incomplete, or difficult to understand. If Dr. Segal’s company has its way, none of these women could pass on word of the shortcomings of these doctors to other potential patients.

In the last few years, the gap between doctors and their patients has widened considerably. It’s almost as though doctors believe that medicine itself has become larger than the people they’re seeking to treat.

Thankfully, some people are still determined to stand up for their rights. John Swapceinski created the web site RateMDs.com to give people the opportunity to anonymously rate their physicians. As you can imagine, Swapceinski has been pressured by doctors themselves and organizations like Medical Justice to remove negative comments — but he’s standing strong.

Doctors are “basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights,” Swapceinski correctly points out. “And I really find that repulsive.”

Swapceinski even intends to combat Segal’s Draconian patient waivers by listing the names of doctors requiring these gag orders on a “Wall of Shame” on the RateMDs web site.

AMA President Dr. Nancy Nielsen said that online doctor reviews “should certainly not be a patient’s sole source of information” when looking for a doctor.

Maybe not. But it’s certainly worth taking into account. And it’s certainly your right to do so.

If you’re interested in reading what other people have written about your doctor – or even in writing a review of your own – you can go online to websites like www.ratemds.com or www.angieslist.com.

Better do it now… while you still can!

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