Hidden Dangers in Your Practice Website

Michael J. Sacopulos, JD

Disclosures

February 10, 2016

In This Article

Angry Patients May Attack Your Site

What could be more benign than a basic website? It conveys some information, has some images, and invites the public to "Contact Us." Most medical practice sites are straightforward, noncontroversial, and display the facts. Sure, the website might be as outdated as an avocado-colored appliance, but really, what could go wrong?

Sadly, plenty of things. Take what happened recently to a surgeon in south Texas.

The conversation started awkwardly. "Um, Doctor, there's something you need to know," said the surgeon's patient, who found a website designed to look like the physician's but was nothing of the sort. For example, the "About Us" section contained such statements as, "We recognize this may be a stressful time for you, so we'll do everything possible to make sure we maximize your pain and suffering." Inflammatory fake posts on the site included such comments as "not so sudden death"; "deal with it, junkie"; "kicked to the curb"; and, a perennial favorite, "not my problem." Upon investigation, it was learned that the website had been active for several months.

The surgeon immediately contacted the authorities, who traced the website back to a disgruntled patient. The former patient also happened to be an amateur Web designer. Ultimately, he was arrested for felony online impersonation. However, it's impossible to calculate the actual damage done during the months this impostor website was active.

Although this may seem like an extremely unlikely scenario, there are subtler versions of this behavior that could damage your practice. Recently, an optometrist in the Midwest contacted me to complain that the domain name for his practice—let's call it www.rogersoptical.com—had been purchased by a competitor, who was using it to route traffic to her own website. In other words, when someone typed "Rogers Optical" into a search engine, the rival optometrist's website was the first hit that appeared.

The domain name was legally purchased (my client never laid claim to it), and nothing defamatory about the optometrist appeared on the Web. In fact, nothing at all about him appeared on the Web. The domain was simply being used as a routing tool to direct individuals to a competitor's website.

Sneaky? Devious? Sure, but this scenario isn't unique.

Both the Texas surgeon and the Midwestern optometrist could have avoided their problems by simply buying up some domain names preemptively. Not only do you want to own your practice's domain name, as well as the domain name associated with your personal name, you want to control closely related derivatives. For example, I control not just "Sacopulos.com," but also "SacopulosLawFirm.com" and "SacopulosSucks.com." (Seriously, you can never be too careful.) Domain names are inexpensive to purchase, but can cost you a lot if the wrong person owns them.

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