Professional accountability 2.0-style

A fortnight back I heard about a controversial new site called iwantgreatcare.

Set up by Dr Neil Bacon (who previously created medical forum Doctors net), the site offers patients a means of rating and passing comment on the medical professionals who practice on them.

The Scotsman reports that the site’s creators have taken great pains to avoid the potential for libel, but two key issues arise as to just how fit for purpose it will be:

  • Who is providing the information, and
  • What use can the information provided be put to.

In terms of the first question, the site allows for anonymous comments.

This lessens its worth as a contributor-finding tool for journalists, but also (and more importantly) as a system of accountability for the profession. It also does little to quell the potential for ‘no smoke without fire’ innuendo and smears.

In terms of the second issue, though the site’s aims are broadly laudable, it could be argued that the means of measurement are questionable. There are three sliding scales (covering trust, listening and recommendation), and a small text box for qualitative appraisal.

So what’s the quality of the qualitative content? Well, so far one of the comments I’ve seen said ‘100% says it all…’. Really? A doctor’s entire medical career and professional demeanor is adequately summed up by ‘100%’?  What use could this information possibly serve.

Another review I’ve read could be interpreted as implying a particular doctor represents a danger to his patients.*

Some might argue that this is once again proof that the Internet is doing violence to social structures (in this case, the doctor/patient relationship) which have served us well for years.

But this belies the fact that there is a socio-political desire for audit and scrutiny today, which has been with us for many years now.

Indeed, doctors aren’t the only profession coming under scrutiny – employees in the private sector should also be concerned.

In case you haven’t heard of it, the National Staff Dismissal Register (which has been active since May) is…

[a]n online database of workers accused of theft and dishonesty, regardless of whether they have been convicted of any crime, which bosses can access when vetting potential employees. (BBC News Magazine, 08.05.08)

There remains a serious doubt over whether this password-encrypted database will be open to scrutiny from investigative journalists – it is a commercial initiative, and as such may slip under the radar of FOI legislation.

But before employers get too heady with the upper hand this tool represents in employee relations, there is also now a UK-based site where employees can air their grievances publicly – workrewired.

If you’re a journalist contemplating an investigation into these sites, you may wish to counter the imbalance in the law by availing yourself of guidance on libel – which you will find here.

 

 

*Bearing in mind Lord Gowrie’s successful libel pursuit of The Star in 1986 on grounds of innuendo, when the paper used the word ‘snort’ in reference to him (playing on the association of drug abuse), this is something which should not be ignored.

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