A recent post claimed that: “Crutchfield Dermatology . . . claims copyright in everything you write forever . . . .” Fortunately, someone (quite a few people worldwide, actually) not only notified us of this post and dialogue, but also expressed dismay at our clinic attempting (among other things) to claim ownership of our patients’ intellectual property in writings about anything for all time and stifling free speech.
As one might expect, for a small dermatology clinic in the Upper Midwest, these claims came as quite a shock and concern. Although we were disappointed by the claims and assure our patients and the public at-large that the claims are not true, we took this as an opportunity to review the current language (and wisdom) of our policy as posted.
While we are confident that our current policy, in context of the entire agreement, does not make the outrageous demand for all copyright in everything a patient ever writes, we realized that if the well-informed participants in the blogosphere were alarmed by the language, perhaps a number of our patients had a similar concern.
As a couple posts have pointed out, a large number of doctors and other professionals have adopted the advice of legal counsel that assignment of copyright is the only mechanism for protecting a business against online reputation attacks. While we rejected this broad approach, like any business that relies on reputation, we have had our concerns, as well. Let me explain.
We previously had a problem with a disgruntled former employee posing as an unhappy patient to make dozens of fictitious, scathing web reviews about our practice. Because the postings were anonymous, it was extremely difficult to prove that they were fabricated and not based on actual patient experience. It is important to note that we have had legitimate criticisms posted about our clinic, and we use those criticisms to improve our operations. However, if a claim is fictitious, it neither aids the public in assessing our clinic nor provides us information we can use to improve our services.
So, to address the potential for false, damaging claims by non-patients, we implemented a two-part enterprise. First, we established a comprehensive plan to give patients a mechanism to have concerns addressed. Even more important than defending against false claims, we want to do everything possible to satisfy our patients. In the rare situation that we simply cannot meet the satisfaction of a patient, the patient is free to express that dissatisfaction in any way, as they always have been.
Second, we sought to find a way to determine the legitimacy of complaints and adopt a means to impress upon a host site when a claim is false. We rejected the overreaching legal recommendation to demand all claims in copyright. Instead, we offered the very limited requirement that patients give us a chance to make things right before taking concerns public. Patients we consulted before implementation thought the arrangement was helpful and fair.
In light of the recent dialogue cited at the beginning of this message, it is clear that the issue of copyright is a hot-button issue that may have a greater significance than is warranted by our intent. Simply, we are not really interested in owning a patient’s copyright interests in writings related or unrelated to our care (although if John Grisham were a patient, we might make an exception). We merely seek to protect our practice from spurious claims and seek to improve to quality of information available to the public.
As such, we are revising our patient agreement. We will continue to require our patients to give us a reasonable chance to make them happy before they resort to public complaints about our clinic, without any asserted claim in copyright. As has been our past experience, we expect these circumstances to be infrequent and resolvable. To the extent that a patient disregards those terms or a non-patient posts fictitious reviews, we will rely on the administrator of the hosting site to consider our evidence of falsity and rely on their defense of their site’s integrity.
Thank you to those who have provided input, favorable and unfavorable alike. Thank you also for taking the time to review this response.
Patient Satisfaction Director