I received my latest copy of the Journal of Perinatal Education a couple weeks ago. Finally, I carved out a chunk of time, and began pouring over it last weekend.
On the opening page, Wendy Budin, editor of the journal, has an incredible article regarding the issue of transparency in the maternity care industry. She draws from an AP article she read in her local newspaper, originally constructed by medical writer Lindsey Tanner (2009), in which a website called RateMDs.com offers the lay person a chance to rate their experiences with their healthcare providers.
Budin goes on to compare this type of website to others where customers can rate products, services, university professors and even their on-line purchasing experiences between buyers and sellers (ever heard of Ebay?).
Here’s the kicker: some physicians are actively working to discourage their patients from engaging in forums like RateMDs.com.
Neurosurgeon Jeffrey Segal launched a company called Medical Justice which, among other things, “offers proactive services that protect physicians’ reputations and deter proponents of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.” If you drill into the Medical Justice website, you will find a page entitled “anti-defamation” where the organization recommends doctors offices, clinics, etc. get their patients to sign “Mutual Privacy Agreements.”
As Budin, quoting from Tanner’s article, describes: “…Medical Justice,…provides doctors [for a fee] with a standardized waiver agreement. Patients who sign [the waiver] agree not to post on-line comments about the doctor, “his expertise and/or treatment.”…Segal’s company advises doctors to have all patients sign the agreements.”
The advice offered through Medical Justice, by the way, comes to physicians for a fee. See a conflict of interest here?
So, here are my two cents: If you have nothing to hide, why fear the truth? Doctors who excel in their delivery of patient care ought to be encouraging their patients to visit sites like RateMDs.com…confident that their patients will rave about their services. When I went on the site and checked out doctors ratings in my area, I saw far more positive reviews than negative ones. Once you find a doctor’s name you’re interested in researching, you can click on their name and see individual comments about that physician’s knowledge, personality, bed side manner, etc.
On the other hand, if you are so paranoid about what your patients will say about you, rather than strong-arm your patrons into signing what amounts to a gag order, why not examine your practices and address what needs fixing?
Of the several doctors I worked with over the years as a PA, I can think of many who would surely glow on a website like RateMDs.com. I can also think of others who would likely dread the rating system on such a website, and for good reason. If teachers and plumbers and hairstylists are subject to public rating systems, why shouldn’t healthcare providers be, too?
And for companies like Medical Justice, I just have to wonder: do they work to protect the doctors out there who still do practice an honorable style of medical care, or do they protect those providers who need transparency the most?