Doctors should not sue patients for negative online reviews

Doctors should not sue patients for negative online reviewsThe case of the neurologist who sued a patient for a negative online review has come to an end.

Predictably, the court ruled against the physician and dismissed the lawsuit.

To recap, the physician was upset by the slew of negative online reviews he received, and claimed that the patient,

defamed him and interfered with his business by making false statements to the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, two physicians in Duluth, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee and St. Luke’s hospital, among others.

I wrote previously that doctors shouldn’t try and remove online ratings, but instead, ask more of his patients to go online and rate them.   Chances are, they will be positive.

In the latest Pew Internet data, only 16% of internet users of gone online to rate their doctors and hospitals.  Such a low number makes physician review sites only marginally useful, if at all.

Back to the case at hand.

The physician, apparently, still couldn’t over the judge’s decision.  When asked to comment, here’s what he said:

[The patient] is a liar and a bully and a coward … He knowingly made false and malicious statements about me to a total of 19 different professional and medical organizations, regulatory agencies and websites. He often used false names and attributed his statements to fictitious third parties. I’ll make the observation that every one of those organizations that was required to make an official decision or take an official action either determined that the statement that he made was so ludicrous that it required no response from me at all or decided that his complaint had no merit.

Now, that really is unnecessary.  Perhaps he realized he had nothing more to lose when it came to his online reputation, but this certainly makes the situation immeasurably worse.

No matter what kind of merit he thought the case had, doctors who sue patients for online ratings are going to lose in the more influential court of public opinion.

Better that doctors take some slanderous lumps online, and instead, encourage more of their patients to rate them.  The ensuing positive ratings that most will receive will drown out whatever vitriol is present.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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  • ninguem

    “44 percent of hemorrhagic stroke victims die within 30 days”

    That keeps getting mentioned as part of the litigation. The patient’s family complained that he said that.

    I’m puzzled. As far as I know, that statistic is accurate.

    Am I mistaken on that?

    Why is the family complaining that the doc said it……and for that matter, why is the doctor denying it?

    • http://drsamgirgis.com Dr Sam Girgis

      Even if a statistic is bad, I agree that it needs to be mentioned. The reality of the situation needs to be expressed to the patient and family. On the other hand, patients and families want to hear the honest truth, but then want to know how you will help them. In other words, they want to hear that the glass is half full not that it is half empty.

      Dr Sam Girgis
      http://drsamgirgis.com

  • http://www.practitionersolutions.com Niamh

    I think the real issue boils down to coping styles. It’s common for a stressed out family to lash out at healthcare practitioners and try to assign blame for something that is obviously and often blameless. What makes it more stressful for them is that their needs were not being met by the physician and they decided that they disliked him. As a result, they took it to an extreme level. Any sane person who would know about this case would see that the actions of the patient and his family were inappropriate and makes them look bad rather than the doctor. Without knowing him, I feel sorry for the physician. In support for “customers” however….all healthcare practitioners might take the time to work on their PR, their customer service practices and relationships with their patients. It is…after all, a “service” industry. If their rapport is good, if something bad happens, the patient is less likely to blame the healthcare practitioner. In this case, without knowing too much, the physician comes across as arrogant. He just laid out all his insecurities for all of us to see, something that he should handle quietly and privately, so that the next time the imperfect patient shows up, he can 1. manage the crisis with the goal of de-escalating the situation 2. he can rely on his own sense of security and not be triggered by the patient with issues. 3. he feels secure in his expertise. After all, why bother taking certification exams if we can’t refer to it and say “Look, I passed the exam, I met the standard, I am certified and my qualifications stand as is!”

  • Dr Chris

    I’ve taken some lumps online-a family who got upset when a cancer recurred, the aftermath after the patient tried alternative medicine first. There are patients for whom I just wasn’t the right fit ,patients who really need concierge care,
    I learned from those comments-when I have a really busy day, it should not trickle down to a bad day for the patient.. Dry East Coast humor isn’t understood in my new habitat.I spend a lot of time with my patients, and I love my work. Sometimes I blow it, sometimes just can’t make someone happy- but I did , long before this article ask all my patient to go online. I’m not perfect, but I did pretty well.
    I would rather have had those comments privately-and now we do regular surveys. I think it would behoove all of us to do this periodically-it can be an eye-opener, And good feedback for the staff-it’s not you being the bad guy-it’s the patients.
    But a law suit- it demonstrates a social “tone deafness” , and definitley means that ever after , when that physician’s name is Googled, the whole mess will pop right up.

    • withheld

      I applaud you for being proactive and open to hearing what your patients are saying.

  • http://glasshospital.com GlassHospital

    He must be a very Grumpy neurologist. Those kinds of reviews would make me grumpy, too.

  • ninguem

    Some of those complaints likely required a formal response. Even a frivolous complaint to the Board requires a formal response with the services of a lawyer.

    “[The patient] is a liar and a bully and a coward …”

    Thing is, I suspect that’s true. Either the patient or the family or both. The doctor really has no way to defend himself.

    And you wonder why doctors don’t want to take hospital call anymore.

  • Noah Vale

    You’ve all opined in a vacuum. Here, I think, is the family’s complaint: http://www.hospitalgripe.com/complaints/I-had-to-find-out-if-you-transferred-or-died_93.0.15.html . I Googled a sentence from one of the newspaper articles: “”When you weren’t in ICU, I had to spend time finding out if you transferred or died.”

    The patient got through ICU w/o ever seeing a neurologist. All the neurologist had to do was clear him to go home. He made a joke – totally inappropriate to his never having met these people. The accuracy of the 44% comment is not at stake – the offense was apparently in using the 44% to excuse the joke.

    The complaint that caused the suit was a simple complaint of rudeness.

  • Jenny Reiswig

    Ars Technica has an interesting take on this issue this morning in a story about a “mutual privacy agreement” the writer was asked to sign in by a dental practice, in which he would have to agree to turn over copyright to any reviews he might write of this dentist. The document turns out to be boilerplate from an organization called Medical Justice, who seems to be capitalizing on doctors’ lack of understanding of the law. It’s worth a read and I’d like to see this blog’s take on the matter. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/05/all-your-reviews-are-belong-to-us-medical-justice-vs-patient-free-speech.ars

  • Lil A

    I think that this might have been a situation that is confusing at best. The family may have taken offense to what the doctor said, but what they did afterward went over the top. When one person takes offense to something, it is not easy for the opponent to take on the same attitude in order to defend oneself. It is human nature. So the doctor, feeling like he was wronged, was insensitive to the family. The family then escalated it up a notch, and it all became a tit for tat game between the family and the neurologist. It all became a mess when it didn’t necessarily need to be. People, both doctors and patients alike, should be careful about what they say, but we also need to remember that words will slip too and that communication is the best key.

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