Easy tips for physicians to address negative online patient reviews

May 10, 2017

Tips and strategies short of suing your patient for defamation

Patients increasingly turn to the Internet to express their opinions-positive and negative-about the physicians who provide their healthcare. The disgruntled patient has multiple online outlets on which to provide his or her views. Given that prospective patients consult such reviews when choosing a physician, it is important for doctors to be aware of their online reputation and to guard against unfair comments.

When confronted with online criticism, physicians are left questioning their options. Should they contact the patient or the website? Should they start a defamation lawsuit? Here are the steps to take.

Step 1: Investigate

Research the nature and extent of the negative content and determine whether the critic can be identified. This is crucial as the strategy chosen will be driven by the underlying facts. If the physician knows who the online critic is, he or she must decide whether to contact the person.

 

Even more advice: 5 tips for tactfully combatting negative patient reviews

 

If you know the commenter: Address or confront

The characteristics of the critic will determine whether a friendly or assertive approach is in order. If the physician decides to reach out in a friendly manner, the general goals are to try to find a way to resolve the attacker’s underlying complaint and to ask for the damaging post to be removed. 

Next: Do you file a lawsuit?

 

If the physician decides instead to pursue a more aggressive approach, the physician’s attorney can send a cease and desist letter. Often, these approaches do the trick, and obviate the time and expense associated with going to court.

If you don’t know the commenter: Talk to the review company

For those instances where the physician either does not know the attacker’s identity or does know but believes that the foregoing approaches will not work, the next option is to reach out to the website on which the content is hosted.

 

Hot topic: Should physicians share their notes with patients?

 

Under well-settled federal law, websites are generally immune from liability for decisions to leave, or to remove, content posted by their users. Thus, the website can agree to take down content without fear of legal repercussions, a fact that is helpful to a physician looking to have content removed. When physicians reach out to a website, they need to understand the site’s terms of use. Knowing the website’s policies allows physicians to prepare a credible, persuasive explanation as to why the offending content should be removed.

Last resort: File a lawsuit

The final option is to bring a defamation lawsuit against the attacker. This is seen as a last resort for a few reasons. Lawsuits involve a significant investment of time and resources, and the evidence needed to establish a defamation claim is often difficult to prove. Most importantly, a physician typically does not want to be known for suing his or her patient in connection with a bad review. However, if the negative content can be proven to be defamatory, an order from a court directing that it be removed will almost always be honored by a website.

 

In case you missed it: Why are women leaving medicine?

 

Whenever addressing these issues, it is important to consult with your attorney to ensure that you are protecting your interests in an appropriate, and cost-effective manner.