by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, doctors

medical justice

Doctors Who Ask Patients To Sign Over Copyright On Any Online Reviews Are Only Harming Themselves

from the medical-injustice dept

Over the past few years, we've written about the controversial program from a group called "Medical Justice" to get doctors to force their patients to sign over the copyright on any future reviews they might write on sites like Yelp or RateMyMD. The whole setup is both ethically and legally dubious, and a few weeks back some highly respected law professors, Eric Goldman and Jason Schultz, set up the site to help counter Medical Justice's efforts.

After I wrote about that, Medical Justice's PR staff was quick to contact me, claiming that their forms only covered "fictional or fraudulent reviews" and saying that the company's CEO would be more than happy to talk with me. I may have to take them up on that, because apparently the company was completely unwilling to talk to Tim Lee when he sought to do an excellent, well-researched and thorough takedown of Medical Justice's ethically dubious practices, after being told he had to sign one of their forms in order to see a dentist. After debating it with the dentist's office manager, Lee instead went and found another dentist. The office manager made the same claim as Medical Justice, that this was only for fraudulent or fictional reviews, but that doesn't pass the common sense test. If the reviews were fraudulent of fictional, the dentist can use defamation laws to respond. Furthermore, if they're being written by non-patients, as the office manager alleged, then the agreements are meaningless, because the non-patients never signed them.

The real fear is the chilling effects created by such documents. Medical Justice may insist that the forms aren't intended for honest negative reviews, but patients don't know that. The forms certainly don't play that up. So anyone who signs the form may be scared off from actually responding -- even though the legality of handing over such a copyright is also legally dubious.

In the end, it does seem ethically questionable for doctors to require patients to sign such forms. As Schultz tells Lee:
"It's completely unethical for doctors to force their patients to sign away their rights in order to get medical care," he said. He pointed out that patients seeking treatment can be particularly vulnerable to coercion. Patients might be in acute pain or facing a life-threatening illness. Such patients are in no position to haggle over the minutia of copyright law.
Furthermore, Lee questions the claims of Medical Justice (and the dentist he visited) that in signing the Medical Justice forms, patients get greater privacy rights than required by HIPAA. Apparently, that may have been true in the past, but there's no clear evidence that it's true today:
And it gets worse. The "mutual privacy agreements" promise not to exploit a loophole in HIPAA that allows doctors to sell patient information for marketing purposes. But Schultz said that loophole was closed several years ago. Which means that recent versions of the Medical Justice agreement (including the one I was asked to sign) are lying to patients when they promise more protections than are offered under federal law. The Medical Justice website still claims that patients are "granted additional privacy protections" under the law, but doesn't elaborate or back up this claim.
Hopefully, more and more doctors will recognize that forcing patients to sign such forms only hurts them. Like Lee, I wouldn't use a doctor who uses Medical Justice, because it immediately suggests that they're more afraid of hiding bad reviews than they are in providing top notch service. Lee also points out that doctors are hardly helpless against negative reviews, and that they have opportunities to respond to them and help those patients, and in fact, that such responses can help build a stronger reputation for doctors. It really is truly unfortunate that so many doctors don't think through the obvious implications of using such forms.

Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Blaine (profile), 27 May 2011 @ 3:42pm

    List available?

    Is there anyway to get a list of doctors in my area that are using this service. I would really like to only use these doctors from now on. I like the fact that they do not have to spend so much time and mental energy worrying about negative reviews and can instead focus on providing me with excellent care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Trails (profile), 27 May 2011 @ 4:06pm

    Sock Puppetry

    MJ was apparently recently caught Sock Puppeting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2011 @ 4:13pm

    Better 10 good doctors have their reputations ruined than one bad one go unpunished!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Master, 27 May 2011 @ 4:36pm

    I kept reading that as "Doctor Who" Ask Patients To Sign Over Copyright On Any Online Reviews Are Only Harming Themselves

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DogBreath, 27 May 2011 @ 4:50pm

    I'd be pleased to sign their form,

    giving up my fictional copyrights, as soon as they sign my form agreeing to be paid in fictional dollars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2011 @ 5:48pm

    Doesn't the copyright belong to the site on which they posted anyway? As F'ed up as copyright law is, I'm pretty sure I couldn't sue techdirt for displaying my comments or make them pay royalties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2011 @ 6:56pm

    I personally don't use review sites in general, since they seem wide open to abuses in both directions, positive and negative.

    If I want info on a doctor I'd be more likely to google his/her name and go for anything that comes up from a reputable news source, like 'Dr. _____ Indicted for Fraud' or 'Dr. _____ Arrested on Molestation Charges'.

    Seriously, over the years I've been a patient of a dentist who was discovered shot to death in a burning car (never solved), a sibling's orthodontist was charged and convicted of fondling his teenaged female patients (had been doing it for over a decade), and a relative's therapist was charged with something awful to do with kids (not sure about how that turned out).

    I've been to doctors and dentists, etc. I don't need to know I'll be waiting. I know that already, they have a special room for it.

    I need to know if I should go armed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Atkray (profile), 28 May 2011 @ 12:26am

    I guess this just goes to prove that jumping through all the hoops necessary to practice medicine doesn't mean you are particularly smart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), 28 May 2011 @ 11:49am


    None of your readers will remember, but at one time medical doctors became irrationally protective - one incident was so gross that it should have resulted in criminal prosecution, but there was a similar "conspiracy of silence" as we now see in dentists.
    Justice Cardozo broke up that network, and the quality of medical care has increased enormously, partly due to the good Justice.
    We need the same thing with dentists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dixonpete (profile), 30 May 2011 @ 8:40pm

    Those review sites serve a real purpose

    I had been sick for several years with an easily treatable illness. Eventually I figured out using the Internet what it was and I got better. Later I thought to check the reviews of the GP would been less than helpful - turns out everyone considered him a quack and had very similar experiences to my own. Had I checked earlier I would have pushed a lot harder for a better source of advice.

    Some doctors are just terrible and patients should have the means of discovering that without having to go through their own needless tragedies through incompetent medicine when they get sick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2011 @ 10:40am

    if a doctor tries to have me sign a waiver like this, what's to stop me from refusing and then writing a bad review about their administrative procedure?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), 31 May 2011 @ 6:57pm

    Most of these doctors are readily identifiable.

    The large yellow bill and webbed feet provide important clues. There should be no need to waste time until they get to the point of asking you to sign theirvstupid form. Run away!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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