Feeling the heat from doctor-rating sites, physicians ask for no-complaint agreements

In a world where patients can sound off about their doctors at RateMDs.com, Yelp, DrScore, Angie's List, Vitals.com and some 35 other sites, what's a physician to do? In some cases, they're striking back by demanding that patients sign contracts prohibiting them from making online comments in any media outlet without prior written consent from their practice.

If doctors are particularly concerned about the issue, they can pay for extra help. One company, Medical Justice, offers a sample privacy agreement starting a $495 and monitors online comments for its 2,000 members.

While some experts say that the agreements are unenforceable--and unethical to boot--anxious doctors say that they feel they have no choice but to give this tactic a shot. After all, they say, the comments on the sites may do serious damage to a doctor's reputation while revealing little about a physician's real skills.

The truth is, even positive comments aren't that helpful to patients, observers suggest. What consumers really need is information about a doctor's mortality, complication and infection rates, but those stats aren't going to turn up sites on Yelp or Vitals.com, notes Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this this Washington Post piece

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