7.30.2009

Doctors Should Not Impose Gag Orders on Patients

A successful lean strategy requires transparency. Information should flow freely, and accurate data about performance should be available to all concerned parties.

With that in mind, I was disturbed by the juxtaposition of two articles that appeared recently on the same day in The Washington Post.

One article focused on laws that have taken effect recently in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia that require hospitals to report to regulators serious injuries that patients suffer in the course of treatment – often due to medical mistakes.

Overall, I view this as a good thing. The three laws described in the article have different requirements, and there will be some problems along the way, I’m sure, as regulators and executives come to learn which requirements and systems work best.

But transparency of this kind of information will, I hope, drive improvement. The article notes that, increasingly, insurance companies are refusing to pay for medical errors, which encourages hospitals to find ways to prevent them.

The other article focused on a push away from transparency. It described how some individual doctors, concerned about websites that publish ratings of doctors, are requiring patients to sign documents in which they agree not to post anything on the Internet without the doctor’s consent.

The article notes that many experts say such agreements are unethical and unenforceable.

I agree with that last point. As a journalist, I react strongly when anyone tries to put a limit on free speech.

In fairness, the doctors have some legitimate concerns. Some websites allow comments to be posted anonymously, and do nothing to verify whether the comments are true.

But a gag order is not the solution. The way to deal with misinformation is with more, accurate information. (Which, by the way, doctors would have if they measured their performance using lean methodologies.)

Your thoughts?

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