Suppose there was a story in the newspaper with a headline like this:
Pope calls for an end of Internet posting about rogue priests
And let’s suppose the article went on to say something like:
After meeting with the Council of Cardinals, the Pope called for ending Internet postings about rogue priests. The Pontiff’s spokesman said that the Pope and the Cardinals agreed, after seeing a profusion of websites rating priests and posting comments about problems in the Church, that such posting was not only defamatory to priests and the Church but also unfair because priests were not permitted to respond to the postings or even to acknowledge that the poster was a parishioner. The Pontiff’s spokesman decried the fact that only unhappy Catholics were posting material about their priests, giving people a very biased perception. As a solution, an American Cardinal has suggested that the Church might try having church-going parishioners sign a contract in which the parishioner would agree not to post online any material about the priest or their church service.
Of course, this is just an exercise of the imagination. But it is an interesting to consider, particularly because many doctors have espoused contracts with patients as an answer to the “problem” of Internet rating of doctors.
The Internet is a tool, a powerful tool, which massively expands people’s ability to communicate, transmit and spread information and disinformation. Doctors are rightly concerned about their reputations and the potential for Internet posts by patients (or by people claiming to be patients) to wrongfully accuse doctors of malfeasance, incompetence or greed. But the genie is out of the bottle.
Doctors need not give up hope, however. The Internet is an equally powerful tool to let the public know about the real quality of care that doctors are giving patients on a day-to-day basis. By encouraging patients to rate their doctors online, doctors can give the public a much more representative view of what American medicine is like. Doctors devote their lives to the quality of care they provide patients. There’s no reason to hide. In fact, proposals to limit the public’s ability to communicate their experiences with their physicians are counterproductive, only making it look like doctors have something to hide. Embracing online rating will help increase public awareness of the dedication of physicians to their patients.