WSJ.com – As Angry Patients Vent Online, Doctors Sue to Silence Them

WSJ.com – As Angry Patients Vent Online, Doctors Sue to Silence Them.

Doctors have long accepted that their patients share opinions about the care they have received, knowing that satisfied patients will refer others while those not so happy with their bedside manner might encourage prospective customers to seek treatment elsewhere. But when William Boothe, an ophthalmologist in Texas, saw that one disgruntled former patient was posting his complaints on the Internet, he launched an aggressive response. He sued for libel and other claims, and earlier this year a state judge ordered the material removed from the Web.

The case is one of a growing number of legal battles being waged over Internet postings about medical complaints. More patients are taking their opinions of their local doctors to the Internet, and a wider audience, and that has some medical providers on edge. Several Web sites have sprung up that encourage patients to post anonymous reviews of doctors and dentists, and some frustrated patients have created entire Web sites to criticize specific physicians.

"The potential problems are huge," said Matt Messina, a dentist in Fairview Park, Ohio, and a spokesman for the American Dental Association. "My reputation is my stock in trade … and we work years and years to build that reputation. To have that shattered potentially [by an Internet posting] is a concern."

Patient advocates, meanwhile, say patients have First Amendment rights to describe their experiences with physicians. "Blogs and personal Web sites are no different than talking over the back fence," said Charles Inlander, president of People’s Medical Society, a patient advocacy group in Allentown, Pa. "Those who read it have to take it with whatever grain of salt you would take, just like a neighbor. It’s too bad if doctors are insulted by this."

I think we all have a very negative view of ‘silencing’ speech, which to me always sounds like bullying.  But, there is speech that needs to be held to a higher standard, and that’s what this is about. 

OK, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be.  However, writing about specific, identifiable people on the internet is, to me, a First Amendment right.  It’s also confers a responsibility to get facts right, and that’s where the libel thing comes into play.  (I think chatting over the fence is fine, and that’s slander, and nobody really cares about that providing it doesn’t make a ot of waves; when your libel about a professional with a reputation at stake shows up in a Google search, that’s a whole other level).

Read the article, which except for a sexed-up title isn’t badly done at all.

via Slashdot


Comments

  1. I am one of many surgeons who was victimized by Dr. Boothe. One of the things we surgeons in North Texas learned from this case was that Dr. Boothe was digging up copies of medical malpractice lawsuits filed against the rest of us, and then sending them to anti-LASIK sites to get them published.

    So on one hand he was suing to shut down his own critics, and on the other hand he was trashing out the rest of us. A real piece of work.

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  1. Smart Mobs says:

    Growing number of legal battles over Internet postings about medical complaints

    Wallstreet Journal September 14: ‘As Angry Patients Vent Online, Doctors Sue to Silence Them’ Doctors have long accepted that their patients share opinions about the care they have received, knowing that satisfied patients will refer others while those…