FEBRUARY 3, 2012
“Slap: Patient Punished For Rate-Your-Doctor Posts”
William Heisel, Reporting On Health
You haven’t heard of Dennis Laurion? To me, he’s a bigger victim of overreach in the new world of online idea exchange.
Laurion’s father had been treated by Dr. David McKee, a neurologist in Duluth, Minnesota. Laurion apparently did not like some of the things that happened during that treatment, and so he posted his thoughts on at least three consumer rating sites. That’s why those sites exist, so that patients can share their knowledge But McKee thought that Laurion was hurting his business, and so he sued to shut Laurion up.
One would think that a suit like this would be laughed out of court, and it was by St. Louis County District Court. But McKee did not take no for an answer. He appealed, and last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, sent the case back to district court for trial.
As Mark Stodghill wrote in the Duluth News Tribune:
[[ Laurion was critical of the treatment his father, Kenneth, received from McKee after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke and spending four days at St. Luke’s hospital from April 17-21 of 2010. The appellate court determined McKee’s defamation suit should proceed regarding six claims Laurion publicly made about McKee.
[[ That McKee told the patient he had to “spend time finding out if you were transferred or died.’’
[[ That McKee said, “44 percent of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option.’’
[[ That McKee said, “You don’t need therapy.’’
[[ That McKee said, “It doesn’t matter’’ that the patients gown did not cover his backside.
[[ That McKee left the patient’s room without talking to the patient’s family.
[[ That a nurse told Laurion that McKee was “a real tool.” ]]
McKee sounded a triumphant note in the Tribune, but Laurion was understandably bummed by the ruling. He wrote to the Tribune: ” While being sued for defamation, I have been called a passive aggressive, an oddball, a liar, a coward, a bully, a malicious person, and a zealot family member…I’ve been said to have run a cottage industry vendetta, writing 19 letters, and posting 108 adverse Internet postings in person or through proxies. In reality, I posted ratings at three consumer rating sites, deleted them, and never rewrote them again, although, to the best of my knowledge, the published statements were made with sincerity.”
Frequent Antidote readers might recognize a pattern here. We wrote last year about doctors and clinics have been trying to force patients to sign away their rights to review medical services on websites. And we wrote about one dentist who had threatened to sue a patient who had written a Yelp review about him.
Might McKee have a point? He very well might. Patients and their families are often emotional and under extreme stress during an illness or surgery. Sensitivities can run high, and something could be misinterpreted. But what disturbs me is the trend toward creating an environment where patients are too scared to report their legitimate criticisms.
Online review sites should not be a forum for falsehoods, but defamation suits against patients who post legitimate critiques of medical services are a threat to free speech and a threat to safe medicine.