A physician’s reputation, once dominated by word of mouth, is increasingly built on online patient reviews. Negative reviews can have a devastating impact on a doctor’s practice. For non-doctors, the effect of a negative review might be blunted with a responsive post that, depending on the circumstances, either apologizes for a true but aberrant incident or exposes the negative review as false. But doctors are bound by state and federal healthcare privacy statutes, such as HIPPA. Those laws make it challenging to combat negative posts with a public response, let alone one that sets the records straight.
There was a time when exaggerating grievances and labeling those who offend as “incompetent,” “crooks,” or “bigots” was dismissed without consequence as just “blowing off steam.” That, of course, was back when such venting occurred in private conversations or emails with a friend or confidant. But, increasingly, people are turning to social media platforms and review services, such as Yelp, to broadcast their feelings to far larger audiences, sometimes with dire consequences for their targets.
A nasty review of a product or service provider can have adverse effects on revenue and, in the worst cases, result in a business closing up shop. For physicians, it might mean fewer referrals, a reduction of patient visits, and unfair damage to a hard-earned reputation.
While the law protects expressions of opinion, it does not look kindly upon false statements that injure a person’s reputation, including impugning a person’s competence in his or her professional field. That is defamation. While it is true that, even without HIPPA, defamation involves a complex set of burdens and defenses, this does not mean that physicians are powerless in defending themselves against libel and slander. With the appropriate legal approach, they too may seek redress for false statements posted on social medial and service review platforms.
LDE represents doctors and others in internet defamation lawsuits. Bernard Daskal and Daniel Gagliardi have been representing clients in internet defamation claims for over eight years.