What is an anti-review contract?
An anti-review contract, often ironically labeled a “Mutual Agreement to Maintain Privacy,” is a contract where patients give up some or all of their freedom to review their doctor online. These promises usually come in the form of a flat-out promise not to review the doctor or a promise to assign ownership of any online reviews to the doctor so they can take them down in the future if they don’t like what the reviews say. In exchange, the doctor promises to respect the patient’s privacy. Doctors obtain these contracts from a company called Medical Justice, which licenses the contracts to its member-doctors because it promises that the contracts will prevent online defamation.
To see sample language from Mutual Agreements like the ones that Medical Justice licenses to doctors, click here.
But my contract expressly says I can post an online review…
Some versions of Medical Justice’s contract say “Nothing in this Agreement prevents a patient from posting commentary about the Physician – his practice, expertise, and/or treatment – on web pages, blogs, and/or mass correspondence.” While this may appear to give you the right to review your doctor, in reality, it’s doing the complete opposite. The contract typically goes on to say that even though you can write the review, you don’t own it. Instead, the contract purports to “assign” (a legal term for “transfer”) ownership in the online reviews to your doctor. But why would your doctor want to own the copyrights to the reviews you write? Copyright ownership helps the doctor try to remove your review whenever they don’t like your review. The copyright ownership provision surrenders control over your review, giving your doctor the power to censor it.
But the contract promises that the doctor will respect my privacy. Don’t I want that?
Sure you do. But federal law already establishes a baseline for your privacy that doctors must respect. If they violate your privacy, they can be punished. Moreover, we think doctors should respect your privacy without asking you to give them something in return. Even if you refuse to sign the contract, your privacy rights will not be changed. Additionally, many states have health privacy laws that provide even greater privacy protections than the federal health privacy laws do, meaning that in many situations your health privacy will already be covered above and beyond what federal law requires.
The bottom line:
You don’t have to sign an anti-review contract at your doctor’s request, nor do you want to. Tell your doctor that you expect to be treated with more respect.