March 28, 2012
“Defamation Case Raises Questions About Online Criticism of Physicians”
iHealthBeat, A Service Of The California HealthCare Foundation
Reporting Technology’s Impact On Health Care
A defamation lawsuit in Minnesota is raising questions about how physicians should respond when individuals criticize them online, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Background on the Case
Duluth, Minn. neurologist David McKee filed a defamation suit against Dennis Laurion, who posted online comments criticizing McKee’s bedside manner after the physician treated Laurion’s father.
Marshall Tanick — McKee’s attorney — said Laurion distorted the facts in online and offline complaints, accusing McKee of things “that never happened.” McKee is seeking more than $50,000 in damages in the case.
Laurion said he deleted the online comments after McKee filed the lawsuit. According to Laurion’s attorney John Kelly, Laurion’s comments were “constitutionally protected” and reflected Laurion’s perception that the McKee’s conduct was “tactless and inconsiderate.”
The case now is pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
How Physicians Respond to Online Criticism
Eric Goldman — associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law in California — said physicians and dentists have filed more than a dozen defamation lawsuits since 2004 over online reviews, but most of those cases were dismissed or settled.
In response to the growing number of online critiques, some medical practices have asked patients to sign forms preventing them from posting comments about a physician online.
Jeffrey Segal — a North Carolina neurosurgeon who founded the firm Medical Justice, which used to promote such forms — said his company now advises physicians about how to use doctor rating sites to their advantage. Segal noted that most negative reviews can be neutralized by “something as simple as saying ‘Hey I was having a bad day. I’m sorry'”
Lauren Starling: Defamation cases, no matter how warranted, may not be in the best interest of the wronged individual. As Segal said in the article, many times the reviewer can be handled quietly and often if it’s done in a timely manner you can turn the reviewer around and they will end up redoing their previous review. Another crucial thing to consider: Most people don’t realize when you bring about a lawsuit you have a good chance of it hitting all the news sites (as this one did) which means when people Google your name or company the first thing they may see from here out is the case which, of course, increases awareness of the initial bad review. Remember your main business goals before hiring an attorney. Consider going to an Online Reputation Manager instead. It may be less costly AND you will actually be able to remove those bad search results from view.