Fierce Health Care: “Chiropractor sues patient over negative online review”

JANUARY 9, 2009

“Chiropractor sues patient over negative online review”

Anne Zieger, Fierce Health Care


Some insurance companies have been starting to experiment recently with allowing their customers to rate doctors and then make that information generally available. But third-party sites to do the same thing have been around for several years. So what if a user writes a review that is not accurate?

A San Francisco chiropractor is trying to find a way to respond to a negative review that he believes was completely unfair. Originally, the patient published a review on a site called Yelp after visiting the chiropractor for the first time; in it, he didn’t complain about the care he received but did complain about the chiropractor’s billing practices.

Then the chiropractor complained about the review, saying that his billing practices were perfectly standard and that a negative review could drive customers away. So the patient replaced his review with another one, intimating that this was how the chiropractor responded to all negative reviews, and therefore his overwhelmingly positive reviews couldn’t be trusted.

Now the chiropractor is suing the patient. Many observers are saying that the chiropractor simply generated a lot of bad press, and lost himself a lot more patients than if he had just left well enough alone. But the whole case brings up a valid point: What should doctors do if patients are publishing negative, false reviews about them on the Internet?

Showing 5 comments

Alguien: Why are you automatically assuming that the patient’s statements were false?

Howard: Posting a statement about another person (or organization) on the internet should not shield the poster from libel or slander laws – if I accuse a licensed professional, regardless of his or her specialty, of conduct unbecoming etc. I should be prepared either to prove it or deal with the consequences. I am professionally licensed in my field, and someone accusing me of incompetence or dishonesty had better be prepared to document the charge or face the legal consequences. And the cloak of anonymity that the internet offers is a very thin cloak indeed – every posting leaves a trail that can be traced back to the poster. Take my word for it.

JG: The doctor should be able to rebut the negative information (like on EBay). There are two sides to every story and sometimes they’re both true! The consumers should be able to weigh them and make an informed decision.

Someara: This article lead very skillfully conflates “negative” with “false,” and would suggest the reader make the same mistake. Given the documented and well-known medical error rates that lead to roughly 100,000 avoidable deaths every year in the U.S., and even greater numbers of poor outcomes, it seems not genuine at the very least for medical practitioners to claim abuse by consumer feedback on the Web. I don’t see similar concern expressed about the abdication of regulatory responsibility by medical review boards across the U.S. who refuse to police, censure or control incompetent and reckless medical practice. Given how long and hard it took the AMA to buy into the concept of “patients rights,” it’s not surprising that many of its members would be more interested in denying patients’ inalienable rights of speech rather than investigating deficits within individual or group practice.

Anonymous: Whether the client’s statements were false or not is not the issue here. The issue is the negative reviews triggered this kind of response from the chiropractor. I don’t think he really had to sue. He could’ve just hired an online PR firm like Reputec to get rid of the bad links by replacing them with good ones.


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