Can a doctor sue a patient for a negative online review?

That’s exactly what’s happening in this case in San Francisco.

Angered by a billing dispute with his chiropractor, a patient posted a negative review on the online review site, Yelp. Now he has to defend his review in court, which is, even if the case is thrown out, not a chance many patients are willing to take.

Indeed, if the medical profession really wants to shut down these sites, a few well publicized lawsuits like this one should do the trick.

On an unrelated note, Yelp itself is being investigated for “removing” negative reviews if the person or company in question purchases advertising on the site. If true, this can damage the integrity of the entire online rating business model.

Both these stories point to some of the obstacles that impede honest, useful, assessments of the medical profession. As patient advocate Trisha Torrey writes, there are already questions surrounding the credibility of sites which provide an online rating of a doctor: “Take other patients’ reviews with a grain of salt. We patients may be great at determining how nice a doctor is, but do you want your choice of doctor being influenced by someone who was just ticked off that she waited in the waiting room for too long? Don’t forget, too — there is nothing to stop the doctor herself, or her spouse or nurses to fill out those ratings questionnaires.”

Will a reputable brand like Zagat clean up the corruption and prove more useful to patients? Perhaps, but given the dismal results that the current online options offer, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.