Friday, February 20, 2009

Shut Up, and Call Me in the Morning

It's as American as apple pie: the right to complain about poor service. But beware, you may have to give up that right if you want your doctor to continue treating you.
Of course, just because you sign something doesn't automatically mean that you're bound by it. But there are usually consequences for ignoring the rules, especially ones to which you've explicitly agreed. In this case, the consequence is a boot out the door - of the doc's office, that is.
According to Laurence McCullough, a professor of medical ethics at Baylor College of Medicine, "(t)his is just the guild trying to protect itself from accountability to those it serves. That's not professional behavior — this is self-interested behavior." Of course, the medical profession has been under fire of late for other potential lapses in ethics, so this isn't necessarily breaking new ground.
But it is troubling:
Dr. Wendy Mariner, a law professor and director of the Patients' Rights Program at Boston University, opines that "the waivers create an adversarial relationship between doctors and patients, and could possibly limit options for patients seeking care. If this kind of thing gains any traction, medical licensing boards will, and I think should, prohibit it."
On the other hand, the reviews in question are often, well, questionable themselves. After all, how is one to know if the person posting an online complaint against Dr Smith was actually a patient of his, or simply a disgruntled employee, for example? Absent some kind of monitoring, who's to know. But that, of course, begs the question: who does the vetting? There doesn't seem to be any reasonable answer to that one.
And there's this:
"Under the terms of the agreements, patients promise they "will not denigrate, defame, disparage or cast aspersions upon" their doctors or post comments to any Web pages by name or anonymously."
Of course, if it's anonymous, how would the doc know whom to "fire?"
For now, both sides seem to be finding their way around these questions. It may be a while before we see any substantive answers.
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