The Practice of Mutual Agreements at and Other Doctor's Offices

The Practice of Mutual Agreements at and Other Doctor's Offices

Today, I visited the dentist ( for a regular teeth cleaning. Since my previous visit, they had converted to be a paperless office, so I had to electronically sign forms such as HIPAA notification and the terms of payment.

However, there was a new form they asked me to sign — one they called the Mutual Agreement. When I read the details, it found it disturbing.

In essence, my doctor was asking me to sign away (for five years) copyright to any online commentary I might make about them, regardless of the tone or the medium (blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Their angle was that in return for the HIPAA protection they provide me under federal law, it was only reasonable that I would give them the courtesy of posting constructive commentary. This Mutual Agreement specifically noted they couldn’t control if my comments were positive or negative, but the request overall was obviously intimidating. I refused to sign.

Immediately, I tweeted about this, and a follower kindly shared this story about the growing practice of Mutual Agreements amongst medical providers. Some call them necessary protection for doctors and their reputations, while others see them as gag orders. And if a patient didn’t like that the doctor was requiring the Mutual Agreement, they could go see a doctor that didn’t.

Personally, I was most bothered by their request for copyright. Knowing that I give away some rights to my work (example: blog comments), for photography or writing I grant no one exclusive copyright on any of it. It’s my work, not theirs.

I understand my doctor’s desire to curb libelous comments, especially if they cannot be traced to actual work they’ve performed. They are damaging to their reputation and bottom-line, for sure. And while they have the right to solicit my agreement to this policy, I’m bothered by their need to pursue this particular solution. What’s next? Pursuing me for slander because I complain to a co-worker about the service I receive?

When it comes to the power of the Internet and people to easily comment about anything, the cat is out of the bag. My provider and other doctors would be best served to find ways that prevent negative commentary in the first place.

How about you — have you encountered such a practice at your doctor’s office? If so, how did you handle it?