The Angry Patient (2) and the Internet
What about angry patients expressing their feelings not solely to the doctor involved but broadcasting it to the world on an Internet Web site? This is happening, as documented in a Wall Street Journal article of September 14, 2005. This behavior by patients has led to various libel lawsuits. As noted in the article there are, of course, two views of the issue:
"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."
If a disgruntled patient is asked by a neighbor for a recommendation for a doctor, specifically the patient’s doctor, is it slander to tell that neighbor about the patient’s own unhappy experience? If it is part of our right to free speech, then is this act just as permissible if same description of the doctor is displayed on a Web site? According to the Columbia University Press Encyclopedia, “In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed that only factual misrepresentation is to be considered libel or slander, not expression of opinion. It has also ruled that libel suits may be filed across state lines, not only in the state where the plaintiff lives.”
The law is one aspect but what about the ethics? Is it ethical to “spread the word” of one’s personal anger. Well, the way I would look at it would be all about intent. If the intent was to present to others only the facts about one’s own personal experience with a physician and not to generalize about how that physician might behave with another patient or to demean or degrade the physician then this act might be ethical. However, if the intent is specifically to do damage to the physician and his or her practice, this would be maleficent, unjust and therefore unethical. What do you think of an angry patient expressing personal discontent on the Internet? ..Maurice.