Patients frustrated by long waits or rude receptionists can express their frustrations on doctor rating websites, but now a U.S. company is giving doctors control of what is said about them online.

Online doctor rating sites may unfairly malign physicians but it isn't always patients making the nasty comments, said Jeffey Segal, CEO of the North Carolina-based company Medical Justice.

"We've seen people hide behind a cloak of anonymity on the internet to try and do damage to their competitor down the hall or across the city," said Segal.


Doctor rating websites are useful for patients and clinics but shouldn't be used to choose a new doctor, Dr. Roetke Gradstein says. (CBC)

Segal's company offers a "reputation management" service to its doctor clients. For about $600, Medical Justice provides its 3,000 members, including some Canadian doctors, with an agreement they can require their patients to sign.

The agreement says patients are free to complain about out-of-date magazines in the waiting room or waiting for two hours to get into to see a doctor. But signing the agreement means once a comment is posted, the copyright on the comment gets transferred to the doctor.

If a patient posts something the physician objects to then the doctor can use their ownership of the copyright to demand that internet service providers remove the comment.

"I think doctors can be hurt by the things that people post that maybe aren't fair," said Dr. Roetke Gradstein, a family doctor in Halifax.

"We don't have the ability to go in and give rebuttals of course, it's a confidential relationship that we have."

'That's a little too big brother for me'

Removing comments seemed unfair to Courtney Fader, a hospital patient in Halifax.

"That's a little too big brother for me. I just think that's a whole new level of censorship."

Gradstein doesn't think patients should be prevented from voicing concerns either, since clinics have few ways of receiving honest, unbiased feedback from patients about what's important to them.

Gradstein said she's used some of the negative online comments to look at how she deals with patients. Still, she cautions against using rating sites to choose a new doctor, saying she doesn't think it gives enough information about good medical care.

Most negative comments are complaints about reception staff, long waits or a doctor's bedside manner.

Toronto resident Tony David, 37, said a doctor rating website was very useful when he was looking for a surgeon to treat his colon cancer.

"I find it's really helpful because you have nowhere else to go really," David said. "I felt a lot better because I knew I was getting a top-notch surgeon."

When David didn't like the first surgeon he turned to, he made "middle of the road" comments about that doctor, and he now recommends the second surgeon to his friends and online.

With files from CBC's Pauline Dakin