True or False: A closer look at some of Medical Justice’s key claims.
Claim 1: Because of federal privacy laws, doctors can never respond to a patient who posts false information.
False. Doctors have numerous ways to respond to their patients’ reviews. First, doctors can respond privately to their patients; some sites (such as Yelp) facilitate private messaging to reviewers. Second, doctors can publicly explain—on their own websites, in their newsletters or even on review sites—how they run their practice without discussing the specifics of any patient’s experience. Doctors can also ask their patients for permission to publicly respond to any review. Third, if a doctor believes a review contains false claims, doctors can (and do) sue their patients for defamation. See some examples here and here.
Claim 2: Mutual Agreements give patients “additional privacy protections above and beyond that mandated by law.”
Medical Justice CEO, Dr. Jeff Segal, as quoted in interview with NPR, PhysiciansNews.com. The contracts themselves indicate that doctors promise “patient protections” in return for patient silence or assignment of ownership.
False. HIPAA obligates doctors to seek a patient’s consent before sharing patient information with any third party, including for purposes of “marketing.” 45 CFR 164.508(a)(3). Thus, when the Mutual Agreement says “Physician agrees not to be paid for selling patient lists or PHI to any party for the purpose of marketing directly to his patients,” it merely restates what HIPAA already requires. In fact, the federal government has prohibited doctors from conditioning their compliance with federal privacy laws on a patient’s “silence.” For more on the ruling, click here.
Claim 3: Mutual Agreements do not prevent patients from reviewing their doctors online.
This is at best a misleading statement. Some of the contracts in the past did explicitly ban patients from writing online reviews. Even if Medical Justice has revised its form to eliminate that restriction, the forms still require patients to assign ownership in their future unwritten reviews to their doctors. This assignment attempts to give doctors the unrestricted right to remove patients’ online reviews at the doctor’s sole discretion. So even if the contract does not explicitly ban patients’ online reviews, a tacit veto power over those reviews mean doctors can effectively prevent their patients from reviewing them online.