More Physicians Suing Over Negative Online Reviews, Lawyers Say

Lawyers say physicians increasingly are suing former patients and their relatives over negative online ratings and reviews, the Boston Globe reports.

The rise of consumer-driven websites like Angie's List and Yelp has allowed thousands of patients to write critical comments about their physicians. The number of patients who consult online reviews to choose their doctors also is increasing, according to the Globe.

Physicians Take Aim at Online Reviews

Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said that physician rating websites can offer an inaccurate picture of doctors because patients are more likely to share critical comments than post praise. The possibility of negative reviews also could negatively affect patient care, he noted.

Aghababian said, "We don’t want to discourage [doctors] from taking on really tough cases because they don't want to ruin their ratings"

An emerging batch of websites offer services intended to either dispute negative online ratings or help doctors prevent them in the first place.

For example, MedicalJustice.com offers physicians contracts that prohibit their patients from writing online reviews, while PhysiciansReputationDefender.com focuses on disputing negative online physician reviews.

Outcomes of Lawsuits

According to the Digital Media Project at Harvard University, there have been at least seven lawsuits filed against patients and others for online physician comments in the past five years. The outcomes of such cases have varied considerably.

In one case, a neurosurgeon who sued a patient for negative reviews -- which included comments that the surgeon posed a high risk of death to patients -- was ordered to pay $50,000 in legal fees, after the judge ruled that the patient was exercising free speech rights.

In several other cases, patients took down their comments after facing the threat of legal action. In one such case in Boston, a doctor filed a $100,000 lawsuit against a critical blogger, who is the husband of a former patient who passed away. The man has since taken down his blog post, but the lawsuit still stands. 

Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center -- said that to win such lawsuits doctors generally need to prove that a patient's statements are false and have hurt the doctor's reputation (Kowalczyk, Boston Globe, 3/31).


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