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.

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 and what are the implications?

Is Lawsuit a good idea?

Case1 – 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. 

Case2  – 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.

Forget suing. In the vast majority of situations, suing a patient over online comments is a bad idea, says Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University in California. “Lawsuits are a rarity, and they’re counterproductive. They call attention to the negative comments, and even if the doctor wins, they are not going to be satisfied with the outcome. The vindication will not be worth the cost and effort and it just raises the chances of a counter claim for malpractice

What should you do?

Most physicians are uncomfortable with having their services publicly critiqued. A patient’s perception may be unfairly colored by their own personality or outlook; or a patient may have a vendetta against the physician for some other reason, and there’s no way to publicly check out the validity of the complaint. Consider the pros and cons, as well as alternative ways to deal with the situation, before deciding to bring a defamation lawsuit. 

Bryan Thorell, managing director at Ermsolutionsgroup.com, an online reputation management company based in New Jersey, says that as a physician, you can’t control what people will write, so the question becomes: Do you want to be proactive in taking responsibility for your digital identity or do you just want to be responding to what people are saying?

Monitor, Build and Protect your Online Reputation. Take control before you get another scathing negative review. 

You can start doing it yourself or consider taking professional help and use advanced solutions that can help you in managing your online reputation. Here is how you can do it:

You can start doing it yourself or consider taking professional help and use advanced solutions that can help you in managing your online reputation. Here is how you can do it:

1. Monitor Review Sites

One of the most obvious ways to monitor your online reputation is to check review sites such as Google, Yelp, Healthgrades etc. Many online directories allow anyone to add a listing, so even if you didn’t list your business, it may still be on there, collecting reviews. Be sure to claim your listings wherever possible, and monitor these sites frequently. You can also set-up Google Alerts for your business.

2. Build Reputation

Request your happy patients to write reviews for you on the internet. It will help you bury the negative ones. There are solutions in the market that allow you to send out automated review requests to your patients via email and text messages. Some advanced solutions even allow you to capture reviews when patients are at present your practice. eRM is an industry leading solution that can help you achieve the results.

3. Protect Reputation

Check if your negative reviews are against the policy of that particular review site. If yes, report it to the site and request them to take it off.  Also, be proactive in reaching out to your patients and asking them for feedback and you will save a lot of negative content from going on to the web. eRM solution helps you gather the feedback without having it published on the internet. Reach out to the patients, take feedback and resolve the issue offline.

eRM empowers you to effortlessly capture reviews using multiple channels and publish them on the web. eRM automatically monitors review websites and keeps you updated when any new review is posted about you on the web. eRM solution also takes into account client behavior and human psychology and makes it real quick & effortless for clients to write a review thereby attracting more and more positive reviews online.

Source:

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/757172_4

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/909173_2

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