News: Physicians respond to online ratings

June 1, 2009

A small but growing number of physicians are asking patients to sign agreements pledging not to post negative remarks about them on Web sites that allow the public to rate medical encounters.

A small but growing number of physicians are asking patients to sign agreements pledging not to post negative remarks about them on Web sites that allow the public to rate medical encounters, according to Modern Healthcare (3/16/09). Some physicians claim that the so-called mutual privacy agreements are necessary because derogatory posts often have little if anything to do with their clinical skills and can damage their reputations and medical practices, possibly at the hands of disgruntled patients, former spouses, and the like. These physicians say that the courts, state licensing boards, and other avenues are already available to lodge complaints. Free-speech advocates term the agreements "gag orders."

The online sites in question include Angie's List, http://RateMDs.com/, and Zagat. WellPoint, the nation's largest insurer, partners with Zagat in an online physician-rating system it has offered since January 2008 in several states, including California. Insurer members rate physicians on four criteria-trust, communication, access/availability, and office environment-and can add comments to supplement the numerical ratings. According to WellPoint, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and constructive.