GREENSBORO, N.C., Aug. 4 Medical Justice Services, Inc.,which has successfully helped physicians and dentists defend themselvesagainst meritless medical malpractice lawsuits for the past six years, hasintroduced a new way for physicians and dentists to fight back againstdefamation on the World Wide Web.
The program, which prevents defamatory online postings about physicians ondoctor rating sites and blogs, solves a problem that's exploded in the pastyear, according to Jeffrey Segal, M.D., founder and president of MedicalJustice Services.
"In most circumstances in America, publishing something that's untrue anddefamatory about someone else can be solved by filing a libel or slanderlawsuit in civil court," said Dr. Segal. "But when a defamatory message abouta doctor is spread to thousands or millions of people with the click of amouse, physicians are generally left with no reliable recourse."
That's because physicians and dentists can't sue a Web site that hostsfalse and defamatory content about them, the way that they could sue anewspaper or broadcast station. In 1996, Congress passed the CommunicationDecency Act, immunizing Internet Service Providers from being sued fordefamation.
But Medical Justice has a solution that works. It uses patient-friendlycontract language to both prevent the posting of defamatory information beforeit occurs -- and provide physicians with an appropriate way to put a stop toit if it is posted online.
The program is free to physicians who become Medical Justice members, oris available separately for $495 for the first year and $350 each yearthereafter.
Dr. Segal first developed the idea of using a contract to addressdefamation, after Medical Justice used contract language to successfullyprevent its member physicians from being sued for frivolous reasons.
With Medical Justice's anti-defamation program, patients sign a contractof mutual privacy, in which they agree not to post anything on the Internetabout their doctor's care without their doctor's permission. In return, thephysician gives the patient additional privacy protections beyond thosemandated by federal law.
Physician rating sites are regularly informed as to which physicians havelicense to use the contract language -- and plans are in the works to verifythat those sites are not interfering with the pre-existing contracts betweendoctors and patients.
If an anonymous posting does appear, the site is informed of the contract-- and warned that if the post remains, the site may incur liability.
Dr. Segal pointed out that while web sites can't be sued for defamation,they have been successfully sued by companies who set out to enforce priorconfidentiality agreements with their now ex-employees. Confidentialityagreements between doctors and patients would likely be similarly successful.
Does it violate a patient's First Amendment rights? No. The FirstAmendment generally applies to government action. Here, the doctor and patientare not state actors. The restrictions are minimal -- and patients remain freeto report inappropriate medical care or treatment to state licensing boards,professional medical societies, third party payers, friends, family, or otherdoctors. They can even file a malpractice lawsuit.
Dr. Segal said that the intent is to ensure that the doctor-patientrelationship remains strong. This is best accomplished by strengtheningprivacy protections for each party. Such protections have always beenimportant for patients. They are equally important for physicians.
"In few other occupations is an individual's reputation more important,"said Dr. Segal. "A physician's most valuable asset, resulting from the yearsof training and experience, is his or her reputation. It's something that youcan literally spend decades building and it can be ruined in a few secondswith the cl