If Patients Bash You on Internet Rating Sites, Consider This

Anthony Francis, MD, JD

Disclosures

January 26, 2012

In This Article

Introduction

A disgruntled patient posts a critical comment about a doctor on the Internet. The doctor is furious and wants to get the comment removed to make sure it doesn't harm his practice or reputation. What can he do?

He could have his lawyer send a letter threatening a lawsuit to get the offending remark taken down. But that rarely works. Or he may attempt to flood the site with positive comments. But what happens when these tactics don't work?

Most lawsuits filed against bloggers and hosting sites (ie, physician rating sites) by doctors for defamation (or other actions, such as claiming interference with a business contract) have failed. And filing these suits can lead to unexpected negative consequences. Really persistent bloggers may continue to post. Drawing attention to the negative comments can even attract others who don't know the doctor to post negatively as well.

Dr. David McKee, a neurologist in Minnesota, learned the hard way about the unintended consequences of filing a defamation lawsuit in response to online postings by a disgruntled patient.

After consulting on an 85-year-old stroke patient, the patient's son posted derogatory comments about Dr. McKee online and filed complaints with various medical associations. The doctor sued the patient's son.

Dr. McKee's lawsuit was dismissed. The judge stated that the comments posted online were not defamatory. Rather, they were an emotional discussion of the issues. The fact that they had been placed online did not make them defamatory. There was not enough information to form the basis of a lawsuit.

However, Dr. McKee's filing of the suit drew public attention to the matter. Afterward, more than 60 derogatory and negative reports were posted against him on medical rating Websites. Most of these came from people who were neither his patients nor had any personal knowledge of him. Knowledge of the lawsuit appeared to spur anger and revenge from some who didn't even know the doctor.

Comments

3090D553-9492-4563-8681-AD288FA52ACE
Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as:

processing....