co-owner John Swapceinski continues to attract controversy
RateMDs.com has caught
on like wildfire in Canada over the last six months it now features ratings
of over 38,000 Canadian physicians, a nearly 50-fold increase over the 800 doctors
rated on the site last fall. Patients love it, most physicians despise it. Last
month one Ontario doctor decided to do something about it.
ON, family physician Dr Keith Thompson grew more and more irate as the site grew
and so too did the number of comments made about him and his colleagues
many of them positive, but also some that were untrue and damaging. In early April,
after his requests for changes to the site's owners were rebuffed (he'd asked
them to eliminate anonymous ratings and com-ments) Dr Thompson began to
create false entries to demonstrate the site's susceptibility to subterfuge by
unaccountable internet users. He emailed the site's co-founder, John Swapceinski,
to tell him what he was doing and to warn that he planned to encourage colleagues
to follow suit.
After a protracted exchange with Dr
Thompson, Mr Swap-ceinski decided to take Hammurabi's approach and get an eye
for an eye. In a message published on the site's public forum on April 7, he posted
Dr Thompson's name, city of residence, employer, email address and phone number,
as well as excerpts from some of his emails.
the identity of a user is a huge no-no in cyberspace and a number of forum members
blasted Mr Swapceinski for exposing Dr Thompson. The phone number and email have
since been removed. Mr Swapceinski has in the past refused to release the identities
of the site's users without a legal injunction, despite calls from both the Canadian
Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Protec-tion Association to do so
Despite all the flak, he's as defiant
as ever. "I'll definitely protect the identities of people who use the site the
way it is intended but when people abuse it and try to destroy it, I will not
allow that to happen," says Mr Swapceinski by phone from California. "I'll do
whatever it takes to stop it."
"I spammed the site because I was upset with what I saw about
colleagues that I knew was false and because I saw the site as being no more valid
than an MSN chat room," Dr Thompson told NRM by email. "I have consistently
tried to make my point that ratings or comments need to be available to registered
users only just as the forum discussion is," he added, referring to the
site's message board.
Dr Thompson alleges that asking
users to register on the site would decrease the number of ratings that include
false or libellous information, and that the site's owners only allow anonymous
users in order to keep their site's advertising revenue high.
Mr Swapceinski says the site will not change its policy. "There's always a chance
that we might add something like that once we have all the doctors in the country
rated," he says, "but as a practical matter, when the site is relatively small,
we have to make it as easy as possible for people to add the ratings because there
isn't enough content on the site otherwise."
Dr Thompson's suggestion that restricting the ability to submit ratings to registered
users would reduce falsified entries he says Dr Thompson himself has registered
false identities with fake email accounts to post messages to the forum. "He has
demonstrated how easy it is to abuse the system even with registration," says
Other Canadian doctors have begun paying
attention to RateMDs as well. Dr Terry Polevoy, a Kitchener physician and creator
of the anti-alternative medicine website Healthwatcher.net, admits to signing
up with a fake account and rating himself, and a web group called I Hate RateMDs
circulated an email in late April asking doctors to create false entries in order
to sabotage the site.