Healthcare Providers Stifle Online Free Speech

December 15, 2011
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As I’ve mentioned before in posts, my background includes service as a hospital risk manager.  So, I’m an advocate of techniques to minimize risk.  However, I’ve learned of one that really goes a bit too far and actually takes us a few steps back away from the goal of transparency in healthcare.  It also makes me wonder, where is the concern for the patient’s experience?

As I’ve mentioned before in posts, my background includes service as a hospital risk manager.  So, I’m an advocate of techniques to minimize risk.  However, I’ve learned of one that really goes a bit too far and actually takes us a few steps back away from the goal of transparency in healthcare.  It also makes me wonder, where is the concern for the patient’s experience?

It stems from a case where a dentist had her patient sign a “Mutual Agreement To Maintain Privacy”, which asks patients to agree not to publish or write anything disparaging about their experience with the health care provider.  One of her patients paid cash for his care, but wasn’t able to get the documents needed to file a claim with his insurance company.  So he posted negative reviews of the dentist’s office on the consumer websites Yelp and DoctorBase. This lead to a tug-of-war and the patient finally filing a lawsuit.

The agreement does seem to be a mechanism for stifling negative online reviews by a provider’s patients. The lawsuit challenges the health care provider’s ability to stifle free speech.

My take on this situation is that there seems to have been poor communication from the beginning and lack of concern for the patient experience.  What is the definition of “anything disparaging”.  Is it the patient sharing his story of how difficult it has been to get the necessary documentation to submit to the insurance company?  

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My recommendation, as always, is that providers will be better served if they communicate effectively with their patients, provide appropriate service and develop a trusting relationship with their patients. The provider in this case (from the information available in the article) doesn’t trust her patients and may not deserve that trust if her office procedures aren’t set up to fulfill her obligations to the patient. 

This is an important case for social media and networking sites.  We will have to monitor and see how this resolves.  For more detail on the story, read the iHealthBeat article.