SYKES V. Gilbert

FEBRUARY 1, 2012

“What Happens If You Get Trashed On The Internet”

GO MD Web Blog

Say a patient posts unflattering comments about his or her doctor on the Internet. You can file a lawsuit claiming defamation or interference with a business contract. Your lawyer can get creative. But the tactic is likely to backfire.  Not just will the legal fees be costly, but you are likely to wind up with still more negative publicity.

Georgette Gilbert wasn’t pleased, to say the least, with the results of procedures she had done with Dr. Jonathan Sykes, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. So, in the best tradition of “get even not mad”, she posted a web site describing her experience and mentioning Dr. Sykes by name. A lot of work was put into the site (even featuring before-and-after photos).  Dr. Sykes filed a lawsuit.

Result 1: the suit was dismissed because, according to the judge, his prominence conferred on Dr. Sykes the status of a “limited-purpose public figure.”

Result 2: Dr. Sykes paid his own legal fees and Gilbert’s legal fees.

Result 3: The website stayed up and Dr. Sykes got more negative publicity. A lot more negative publicity. (The first 10 Google search results on Feb 1, 2012 returned 9 out of 10 pages related to Gilbert.)

Lesson learned: responding to derogatory comments with legal action can have the unintended consequence of multiplying your digital reputation problem.

If you don’t [fire] back with lawyers, what should you do? Consider “do nothing”. Ignore the derogatory comments and focus on practicing good medicine.  Place as many positive statements as possible on any Website containing negative comments.  (For sites that have comment or talk back, this is very straightforward.  In other cases, you may need to stimulate new reviews, positive reviews, of your practice).  Get other sites — such as your own — in the top ten search results for Google and Bing.  When a prospective patient searches for your name, you can crowd out negative results from the top ten, effectively consigning them to oblivion.


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