Doctors Taking Action Against Online Libel

May 19, 2007 (PRLEAP.COM) Health News
GREENSBORO, NC Medical Justice Services, Inc., a cooperative that for five years has protected doctors against frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits is now protecting doctors online.

A new trend in Internet blogging has led to countless physicians being libeled online by vindictive patients with unreasonable expectations. In many situations, an angry patient wants to tell the world how he was "maimed" by his doctor even though the physician did everything right.

To protect physicians from this threat, Medical Justice developed a proprietary preemptive program that may be the only effective defense against reputation-damaging Internet libel. And it sets the stage before there is a problem.

Here's how it works: Medical Justice provides physicians the infrastructure to prevent patients from posting libelous information about the physician or the physician's practice on the Internet. Recent court decisions have made it almost impossible to fix the problem after the fact. With the Medical Justice system, physicians can immunize against such threats before they occur.

"Saying or publishing something that's untrue and defamatory about someone else can be usually resolved in court," said Jeff Segal,MD, Medical Justice CEO and board-certified neurosurgeon. "But when a defamatory message about a doctor is spread to thousands or millions of people with the click of the mouse, physicians are generally left with no recourse."

Segal said that Medical Justice developed the idea for the contract for two reasons.

"We at Medical Justice have had a lot of success with contracts in which patients agree not to sue their physicians for frivolous reasons," said Segal. "Those contracts also specify that should a genuine dispute over their care later arise, patients will use only expert witnesses from the same specialty as their physicians. Those experts must be both board-certified and must agree to abide by the same code of ethics as their specialty medical society."


The second reason is an increase in healthcare specific blogs and doctor review Web sites, such as RateMDs.com, DrScore.com and others. At the same time, recent case law has held that Web sites are only a vehicle for user-generated content and are thus not responsible themselves for the content. That means that physicians cannot sue a Web site that publishes false and defamatory content about them, the way that a physician could sue a newspaper or broadcast station.

Segal says if a contract is in place beforehand, the physician can use it to force a Web site to take the offending material down.

"In few other occupations is an individual's reputation more important," said Segal. "A physician's most valuable asset resulting from the years of training and experience is his or her reputation. It's something you can literally spend decades building and it can be ruined in a few seconds with the click of a mouse."

Is it legal? Absolutely. Segal points out that the law leaves anyone free to enter into a contract with anyone else, as long as the contracted activity is legal and not against public policy.

"Asking for a promise that patients won't participate in such behavior and requiring them to acknowledge that they can be stopped by a court order if they do is the best solution right now to such a vexing problem," said Segal.