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"Courts might say the balance of power between doctors and patients is very uneven" and that patients should be able to give feedback on their doctors' performance, Speta said.
Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, said her company surveyed more than 1,000 of its consumer members last month, and most said they had never been presented with a waiver; 3 percent said they would sign one.
About 6,000 doctors reviewed on the Angie's List site also were asked to comment. Only 74 responded, and about a fifth of them said they would consider using them.
Lenore Janecek, who formed a Chicago-based patient-advocacy group after being wrongly diagnosed with cancer, said she opposes the waivers.
"Everyone has the right to speak up," she said.
While she's never posted comments about her doctors, she said the sites are one of the few resources patients have to evaluate physicians.
The American Medical Association has taken no position on patient waivers, but President Dr. Nancy Nielsen has said previously that online doctor ratings sites "have many shortcomings."
Online doctor reviews "should be taken with a grain of salt, and should certainly not be a patient's sole source of information when looking for a new physician," she said.
Dr. Lauren Streicher, a Chicago gynecologist, got a glowing recent review on Angie's List, but also remembers a particularly snarky rating from a patient angry about getting brisk treatment after arriving 30 minutes late to her appointment.
She said she sympathizes with doctors who ask patients to sign a waiver.
Streicher said she has seen shoddy doctors praised online whom she would not trust "to deliver my mail, much less my baby." Conversely, bad reviews can destroy good doctors' careers, she said.
"Are there bad doctors out there? Absolutely, but this is not a good way to figure it out," Streicher said.
On the Net:
Medical Justice: http://www.medicaljustice.com/
Angie's List: http://www.angieslist.com/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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