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Web site diagnoses MU’s care

A ‘.com’ seems to be the official page of MUHC but really is an outside venue for complaints.
Thursday, October 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:24 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

If you’re hunting for the University of Missouri Health Care Web site, you won’t find it at "http://www.muhealthcare.com."

What comes up instead is MU Healthcare Victims, a collection of billing and health care horror stories, audit reports and links aimed at “private citizens who have one thing in common — frustration with MU Hospital and Clinics,” the home page says.

The site also includes newspaper articles on the hospital and a message board, which was empty as of Wednesday.

Maurice Manring, spokesman for MU Health Care, was unaware of the site but was not surprised.

“This isn’t exactly the first time we’ve been criticized,” he said.

The site’s most recent article is dated Feb. 27, and little mention is made of recent efforts by The Hunter Group, a management firm, to overhaul hospital practices and curb its budget deficit.

Manring said much of MU Healthcare Victims’ material is “unattributed and vague,” and “isn’t representative of people’s experiences with us.”

The site owner’s name isn’t posted on the site, and the “Contact Us” link is a dead end.

“Usually our critics haven’t been anonymous,” said Manring, who fields e-mail messages for the main MU Health Care site’s contact page.

The domain name muhealthcare.com is registered to Pam Holley of Jefferson City, an environmental geologist and risk assessor who graduated from MU in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences.

Holley could not be reached for comment, and no record of the MU Healthcare Victims organization was found.

Manring said MU Health Care might have missed the muhealthcare.com domain in the process of registering domains for the hospital’s main site, www.muhealth.org.

“We own a lot of variations, but we don’t own that one,” he said.

As of Tuesday, muhealthcare.org and muhealthcare.net were both available. However, late Wednesday afternoon, the MU Health Sciences Center claimed muhealthcare.org, along with a number of other similar names.

Manring said he doesn’t know whether MU Health Care will pursue any legal action against Holley. No one in the campus’ legal office could comment Wednesday.

The muhealthcare.com domain was registered less than two weeks ago with Intercosmos Media Group Inc. of New Orleans, which now hosts the site. Hosts provide server space and file maintenance for Web sites controlled by businesses or individuals who do not have their own servers.

Chief Executive Officer Sigmund Solares said the company is not required to check content or domain names as users register and post sites. Nor is it practical — the company hosts 400,000 sites and has registered 1.7 million domain names, he said.

Most disputes over domain names are settled through arbitration, not in the courts, Solares said, and most favor the company that filed the complaint.

MU law professor Patricia Fry said using the MU Health Care domain name without permission could be grounds for legal action “if it would confuse or possibly dilute the MU Health Care mark.”

The MU Health Care is not a registered trademark, Solares said.

Nevertheless, Fry said rights to a trademark or service mark that is not registered can be established by factors such as how long it has been used; competitors in the same market; and how often the mark is used for similar products or services.

But trademark laws were meant to protect companies from competition, so they could be less relevant to Holley’s site, Fry said.

“Gripe sites are upheld — it’s a form of speech,” she said.

Manring said because MU Health Care is a state-run organization, “we are loathe to even appear that we were trying to put a limit on people’s ability to criticize us.”


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