ALERT PRESENCE: “A Physician Review Gone Wrong”

MARCH 24, 2011

“A Physician Review Gone Wrong”


For several years now, I have been actively involved in issues related to reputation management for physicians. It’s an issue I’ve discussed at length with clients and offered thoughts on this blog. Through my research, I have come across some pretty interesting examples of the challenges physicians face in a world where there are dozens of online review sites. However, I stumbled across a very interesting situation where a doctor’s decision to sue the son of one of his patients for a negative review resulted in a reputation disaster.

After the lawsuit was detailed twice in a Minnesota newspaper, a local resident took action by posting a critical comment and link (screenshot below) on the social news site, Reddit. With a user-controlled ranking system Reddit features the most popular posts to an audience generating over 1 million page visits per day. As you might expect, negative exposure on a site like this leads to undesirable consequences.

I have no interest in offering insight into the specifics of the legal matter as my knowledge of how this all transpired is limited to the information provided in the newspaper articles. However, the fallout from the lawsuit certainly warrants exploration. There is something to be learned from this for those in a position to advise physicians about appropriate responses to negative reviews. It’s necessary to have an understanding of the potential backlash if your response is not well received by the general public. This situation also illustrates the need to have a strategy to help prevent a scenario that may lead to irreparable harm to the physician’s reputation.

Timeline and Consequences

June 2010 – A doctor from Duluth, Minnesota files a lawsuit against the son of a former patient claiming the son made defamatory statements about his father’s care. The statements were allegedly posted on a physician review site in addition to complaints lodged with the associated hospital and other third parties. The local paper publishes an article reporting the lawsuit where the defendant’s lawyer admits his client posted the negative review but later requested successfully for it to be removed from the site.

February 2011 – The local newspaper publishes a follow up story regarding the lawsuit with an update of the legal proceedings.

March 2011 – A regular user of the social news website, Reddit, posted a link to the story on March 21st, 2011 while suggesting the Reddit community should post poor ratings for this doctor on various physician review sites.

A simple Google search reveals this is exactly what happened. After examining some of the top search results for the doctor’s name, it is clear the Reddit post triggered a large number of negative reviews – many of which are clearly fabricated. The following is just a sample of what I found.

Google Place Page – Since Google pulls in reviews from various sources, my focus was only on those reviews posted through the Google Review service. There were 33 reviews (all of which were negative) and every one was posted on March 22nd or later.

Vitals – There were a total of 39 written reviews. 32 of the reviews were posted on March 21st or later and each one was negative.

Healthgrades – There were 34 patient ratings on Healthgrades (mostly negative). In this case, the dates of each review are not posted so it’s unclear how many of them are a result of the Reddit community response.

I’m not all that surprised by the backlash – especially considering the story gained considerable traction on Reddit. It’s just another good example of the viral power social media possesses.

Filing a lawsuit against a patient for a negative review is a very slippery slope – even if the statements are defamatory. What alternative actions exist for dealing with a harmful or misleading review? This question is generic and does not imply the patient in this case made any defamatory statements. That is for the courts to decide.

Brett Pollard is an online marketing consultant specializing in web 2.0 strategies, local search, SEO, ORM and social media for the healthcare industry and small/medium-sized businesses. With over a decade of Internet marketing experience for private ventures, Brett now shares his expertise with clients throughout North America.



Lora Baker:

Wow -just checked his Google reviews. They are so obviously fake that it is hard to believe they are still posted. Unfortunately for this doctor, his choices have resulted in nationwide backlash. If any prospective patient looks him up before calling, they will clearly choose another doctor. I recommend to our clients to work out bad reviews with the reviewer if possible – behind the scenes. If not, most potential clients understand that everyone can end up with a bad review or 2 -most people are more motivated to leave a review if they are upset. Now, Dr. David McKee has so much (fake) bad feedback out there that his reputation is in tatters. Yikes -so glad he is not my client!

Susan January:

The Minnesota State Court of Appeals has issued an opinion. Filed January 23, 2012. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The interfering with business claim was dismissed as being without merit. The patient’s son’s comments are exhaustively reviewed by the court and classified as either opinion (dismissed) or factual assertions. Since the asserted facts of the situation are for a jury to decide, on 6 picky little points the doctor is entitled to a jury trial to determine the facts. The factual assertions that are in dispute verge on opinions or beliefs, because the doctor and the patient’s son dispute what was said and/or what was meant by what was said. They thought he was a jerk, the doctor says he was joking or being friendly or didn’t see them or they don’t understand what he meant. Good example of taking things way too far and doing more damage in the process. Good grief.

Susan February:

My husband is a top performing Cardiac surgeon with great results.But a colleague of his who has been banned from operating due to disruptive behavior is writing bad reviews of him on vitals. How I know this is that every time he gives himself a great review,he gives my husband a bad one. And a doctor who has not done heart surgery for 6 months is getting great reviews and a doctor working every day – 24hrs with all his patients going home in less than 3-4 days is getting bad reviews –on VITALS -something needs to be seriously done.

Samantha Theras:

This can be so frustrating to deal with. Numerous websites online are misleading and fighting bad online reviews with litigation has proven itself time and again to have the worst consequences. The results are never what you expect them to be. I’m sympathetic to some situations in where it is a legitimate review with constructive criticism although, some reviews can be and are bogus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s