DECEMBER 14, 2011

“Should a Doctor or Dentist Sue a Patient for Bad-Mouth Comments?”

Stewart Gandolf, Healthcare Success

If a professional reputation is to be protected at all costs, should a healthcare provider file a lawsuit against a patient for a negative online review?

From time to time we see news items about doctors or dentists who threaten legal action against patients. But suing a patient for a negative comment (or comments) is likely to be a bad idea. In fact, it just might be the worst thing to do.

We can sympathize with a practitioner’s frustration and outright anger. Negative comments and online reviews can be untrue, unkind and one sided. What’s more, we’ve never met a doctor, dentist, physician, surgeon or other healthcare provider who isn’t fiercely protective of his or her personal and professional reputation.

Their reputation—real or perceived, in person or online—is the sum of everything they do. And from a physician marketing perspective, their personal and practice reputation is at the heart of their brand and branding message. It’s no wonder that healthcare providers—doctors in particular—are highly sensitive and sometimes nearly fanatical about any and all reflections on their reputation.

We’re not offering legal advice here, but we discussed the concept of online comments with our friend and noted healthcare attorney Stephen Kaufman. He told us, “Sometimes I can convince the website to pull the [offending] comment.  Sometimes, we write a reply. But I have never sued, and I’m hard-pressed to imagine a circumstance where I would recommend doing so.”

And while a lawsuit may “feel” justified, there are good reasons to reconsider the temptation for a dentist or physician to “strike back” in court. From a healthcare public relations and marketing perspective.

The “doctor-sues-patient” story is likely to grab much more media attention than the original patient review. A small local story can suddenly go national. It’s the PR equivalent to throwing gasoline on embers. It’s going to ignite a flash fire with an explosive downside and not much of an upside.

The general public is likely to identify with–and sympathize with–the patient, not the doctor. Other doctors might quietly commiserate a little, but in the larger “court of public opinion” the doctor may be seen as the villain for starting a fight.

The Internet Search Engines will also take notice. Any ensuing controversy about the lawsuit will itself capture high page rankings and will continue to appear in Google search results—and overshadow any positive marketing efforts—perhaps for years.

And then there are the legal costs, the prospect of counter claims and the drain on personal and professional time and resources.

Our comments here do not refer to the merits of any specific situation, and it’s always a good idea to seek professional legal counsel regarding your situation. Physician-rating websites and online reviews and commentary provide patients with a channel to publish their feelings—good, bad or otherwise—about physician performance.

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found the majority of such reviews (88%) to be positive, six percent were neutral and six percent were negative.

In our experience, the concept of a healthcare provider suing a patient for an “unfriendly” review should be approached with considerable care. It’s likely to be a “legally dumb” healthcare marketing and PR move.

Stewart Gandolf  is CEO of Healthcare Success Strategies, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker.


Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Web Posting

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply To Patient Complaint

Plaintiff David McKee’s Cease And Desist Letter To Defendant Dennis Laurion

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Complaint To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint To Sixth Judicial District Duluth Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Response To Minnesota Board Of Medical Practice

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Answer To Plaintiff David McKee’s Complaint

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Motion For Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Deposition Extracts

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances Before Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony About Circumstances After Encounter With Laurion Family

Plaintiff David McKee’s Deposition Testimony In Response To Questions By Marshall Tanick

Affidavits By Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Parents

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Supplemental Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Motion To Oppose Summary Judgment

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Memo In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment

Sixth Judicial District Court’s Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Appeal Of Order On Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Court Of Appeals

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Order To Strike Portion Of Plaintiff David McKee’s Reply Brief

Minnesota Court Of Appeals Announces Decision

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Petition For Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Opposition To Review By Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Plaintiff David McKee’s Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Defendant Dennis Laurion’s Reply Brief To Minnesota Supreme Court

Minnesota Supreme Court Decision On David McKee MD V. Dennis K. Laurion

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2010

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2011

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2012

David McKee MD v. Dennis Laurion 2013

McKee V Laurion Is A Textbook Case

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.