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.

More Damage When Doctors Strike Back

In another case that backfired, Dr. Jonathan Sykes, a California plastic surgeon, sued a patient who put up a Website criticizing him and his work.

Sykes performed a series of facial cosmetic procedures on Georgette Gilbert in 2003. Gilbert was appalled by the results. She not only sued Sykes for medical malpractice but also created a Website relating her experiences with Dr. Sykes (including before-and-after photos), as well as information and advice for those considering plastic surgery.

Dr. Sykes was a prominent professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. He had been featured in local and national publications touting his expertise in plastic surgery. In the eyes of the court, this made him a "limited-purpose public figure."' As a result, the court dismissed his lawsuit.

When Gilbert refused to close down her Website, Sykes filed a cross-complaint for damages and injunctive relief based on publications appearing in the Website that were allegedly defamatory and caused Sykes emotional distress and loss of business. Sykes ended up paying his own lawyers, plus Gilbert's legal fees, estimated to be in the range of 6 figures. Her Website stayed up and he got more negative publicity.

Were You Really Defamed?

To save yourself trouble and money, it's important to know what constitutes defamation, how to prove it, and how to defend against it.

Defamation is the communication of a false statement purporting to be fact and that causes harm to reputation. Written defamation is known as libel, while verbal defamation is called slander. Statements of opinion are usually not defamatory. Opinion can be erroneous and malicious. However, opinion can cross the line and become defamatory.

Rude, insulting, or offensive statements are generally not defamation. The First Amendment provides wide latitude for free speech. Historically, US courts have always ruled in favor of free speech rather than find for defamation.

Typical defamation statutes require a plaintiff to prove that the defendant made a defamatory statement which a reasonable person would find harmful to reputation; that the statement was shared or transmitted to a third party; that the statement was false (true statements cannot be defamatory); and that the plaintiff experienced damages of reputation as a result of the statement. These could include some form of provable public hatred, ridicule, contempt, or degradation which led to damages.

Defamation per se. Some statements are considered defamation per se (by definition). Plaintiffs are not required to prove that the statements were harmful to the plaintiff's reputation (state laws vary).

Defamation per se typically includes false statements presented as fact concerning a plaintiff's trade or business (stating that the plaintiff is no longer in business, can't get credit, or is engaged in illegal activity); false statements presented as fact indicating that the plaintiff has a "loathsome disease"' (eg, leprosy, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, or mental illness); false statements that the plaintiff is unchaste or sexually impure; false statements that the plaintiff has been involved in criminal activity or convicted of a crime.

What Should You Do?

Consider the pros and cons, as well as alternative ways to deal with the situation, before deciding to bring a defamation lawsuit. One way is to place as many positive statements as possible on any Website containing negative comments. Another is to ignore the comments and practice good medicine. As with any business, a loyal following will counterbalance any negativity. Some patients have always made disparaging comments about doctors. The Internet only serves to amplify the level of the rhetoric.

Top 6 Reasons Every Healthcare Provider Should Have a Blog

Establish your authority as a thought leader and you’ll find your practice climbing to the top of search results as well as reaping other benefits.

Blogging can promote clinical services, improve search rankings, and attract new patients. It’s a must for marketing your practice, yet providers are ignoring the value of blogging. We found out why.Why? Blogs present a fantastic opportunity to solidify your status as a thought leader and really market your practice. Jumpstart your healthcare practice’s marketing strategy with a unique blog. A great blogging presence builds a truly strong website, and strong websites succeed at search engine optimization. 77% of internet users read blogs. Read on to discover why blogging could be your practice’s next big marketing breakthrough.

1. Blogging is Content Marketing – and Content Marketing Rules

Familiar with content marketing? This popular, effective strategy makes all the difference. Content marketing is the producing and promoting of content that engages a target audience and piques interest in available products and services, without explicitly promoting the business that offers those items for sale. Basically, your content marketing strategy showcases your expertise without expressly shilling your medical services. Your unique, interesting content completes the work for you. Build your reputation, and the leads will follow.

Still not buying into content marketing? Consider the stats:

  • More than three-fourths of marketers wanted to produce more content in 2016.
  • Nearly half of all marketers cite blogging as their most vital content marketing strategy.
  • Over three-fifths of all marketers want to up their blogging ante.

Blogging offers a relatively inexpensive way to fulfill your content marketing strategy. Along with a great website, it serves as a foundation for your healthcare practice’s online presence.

2. That Content Marketing Turns You Into a Thought Leader

That’s right, a thought leader. Don’t dismiss this ultra-important label as a millennial buzz word. The label of thought leader designates you as a go-to person in your field of expertise. Build your online presence and watch your network expand. You know that one physician who’s always quoted on your local newscast? That’s a thought leader whose reputation yields free marketing – and blogging helps develop that status.

3. Thought Leaders Climb to the Top of Search Results

35% of viewers click on the top search result presented to them. How can blogging help you climb the ranks? Every time you publish a new blog post, you increase the number of your site’s indexed pages. The more indexed pages your site boasts, the more search-engine directed traffic your site receives. Companies that utilize a blog reap the benefits of 434% more indexed pages. What’s more, these highly-specific blog posts also optimize your page for long-tail searches – lengthier, less-competitive keyword queries.

Search engines don’t consider how many degrees a doctor has earned; instead, they scan how many pages he or she has indexed on their website. Blogging presents a great strategy for you to show off your knowledge while growing the strength of your website.

4. Search Engines Love Backlinks

Blogging not only increases the number of indexed pages, but also helps you grow a network of backlinks. What’s a backlink, also known as an inbound link? A simple, but very important type of connection made whenever a website cites your blog or homepage as a source with a hyperlink. As your web presence grows, other websites begin to cite you (and your notable medical expertise) and Google notices. The more backlinks to your site, the more confident Google becomes in your site’s expertise. So, as you grow your digital network and improve your search results performance, you also further solidify your status as a thought leader. A great reputation, when compounded with fantastic SEO results, yields lead generation.

5. And You Can Backlink to Your Growing Blog, Too

Consider adding backlinks to your own blog to boost search results performance. If you are writing a blog post on how to choose the best sunscreen; for example, create a backlink that connects the article to your blog’s product review of a popular SPF cream. One aspect of back-linking we love: It’s ultra-cumulative. The more you blog, the more easily you can connect all your content and reap the real benefits of back-linking. Remember to go back to your older blog posts occasionally and add backlinks to your more recent work, too.

Your blog enhances your user experience by providing relevant, compelling information in an accessible space. Especially helpful FAQs and how-to guides really help out patients when written by trusted medical authorities. Patients usually lack access to the brochures and pamphlets displayed in your office. Why not adapt them for you blog and feed those search engines some backlinks while you’re at it?

Convert blog readers into patients by ensuring your website includes prominent “Contact Now” and “Schedule an Appointment” buttons. Don’t give them the opportunity to check out other providers. Win the business right away.

6. Blogging Gives You a Great Reason Tweet, Buzz, and Share

Another fantastic aspect of blogging: It puts all those social media accounts to good use. Use your Twitter and Facebook accounts to share your original content and then engage with followers who respond to it. Don’t forget to share your unique content on LinkedIn, too – a great place to connect with other thought leaders who may not be using Facebook or Twitter.

Says Jason Stone, an Instagram influencer to Forbes: “Social media is no longer about family and friends’ conversations, and photo sharing. It’s about reaching an audience, a new client and new prospects.”

Remember: Your personal touch improves your content. Highly technical medical jargon plays poorly across all social media platforms. Be the most personable, accessible version of your professional self you can be.

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