In innumerable ways the Internet has benefited the public. Online shopping means that goods are available at lower prices and often from a wider variety of sources, both nationally and internationally. That is good news for consumers.
If we want to purchase a car or appliance, for example, there are countless websites displaying consumer reviews from people who purchased the same item. These review sites help us make informed choices for our consumer decisions.
Increasingly, sites such as RateMDs.com take that process a step further, asking the public to rate their physician. For obvious reasons, reviewing a refrigerator is quite different than reviewing a physician. And the downside: it is all too easy for a patient to bad-mouth his physician in an anonymous and public way. With the click of a mouse, such posts can have a detrimental and permanent effect on the physician’s reputation.Many such comments are not due to substandard care, but are motivated by unreasonable expectations. Left unfulfilled, this can lead to resentment, disappointment, and cathartic retribution through anonymous ranting. This problem is further compounded by the reality that Internet Service providers are immune to almost all suits for defamation. So, if the doctor is permanently defamed, he has to find his “remedy” with the anonymous author. A tall task indeed.
To minimize the uncertainty associated with after-the-fact solutions, a better strategy is to set the stage upfront. A vaccine for libel. Medical Justice has extensive experience with templates for contracts to prevent frivolous lawsuits alleging professional negligence. This same paradigm can be used to prevent defamation on the Internet. Further, if a patient does defame a doctor, the physician has an enforceable agreement to potentially take the material down and/or hold the anonymous author liable.
Our proactive approach at Medical Justice means that there is a much lower chance that defamation will take place – prevention is the best possible cure. Although libel is now considered an occupational hazard, physicians should be able to rest assured, knowing that administrative procedures are in place that will help them to avoid many of the pitfalls of this area. This will allow them to do what they do best, focus on patient care.