Physicians: The One Thing You Should Not Do if a Patient Posts Negative Online Reviews

There are many good things a physician can do if a patient posts negative comments about him or her on a physician review site.

But first of all let’s make absolutely clear what a physician should NOT do in response to negative comments: Do NOT sue the patient.

The lawsuit filed by Dr. David McKee, a neurologist from Duluth, Minnesota, is a case in point. Dr. McKee sued a patient’s son for defamation after he posted negative online reviews. Apparently the son was spreading the heinous charge  that Dr. McKee is “a real tool.”

The case has been pursued all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, with witnesses called to reinforce the fact that the son of his patient really did refer to Dr. McKee as “a real tool.”

Is there anyone on earth thinking right now, “Hey, I think I’ll call that guy Dr. McKee for an appointment today. He’s really standing up for unfair attacks on physicians.”

So please, physicians, don’t sue your patients over negative online reviews. Instead, learn from them.

Software Advice‘s David Fried recently wrote a blogpost that gives some excellent tips on how to shift negative reviews to positive. Among some of my favorites are:

  • Pick your battles.
  • Use the feedback to improve your practice.
  • Craft a response that demonstrates a commitment to improvement.
  • Reach out to the patient who posted the negative rreview.
  • Work with the rating service to get truly libelous reviews removed
  • Encourage happy patients to post reviews.

Much better advice than a lawsuit!


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Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

6 replies
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  3. Dennis Laurion
    Dennis Laurion says:

    Although the Minnesota Supreme Court ultimately dismissed this lawsuit, this entire experience has been distressing to my family. We were initially shocked and blindsided by “jocular” comments made so soon after my father’s stroke by somebody who didn’t know us. We were overwhelmed by my being sued after posting a consumer opinion, and we were shocked by the rapidity with which it happened. It has been the 800 pound gorilla in the room. My parents would be 88-year-old witnesses. My mother and wife prefer no discussion, because they don’t want to think about it. Conversation with my father only reminds him of his anger over this situation. My siblings and children don’t often bring it up, because they don’t know how to say anything helpful. I have been demoralized by three years of being called “Defendant Laurion” in public documents. 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. That’s not correct. In reality, I posted ratings at three consumer rating sites, deleted them, and never rewrote them again.

    The plaintiff’s first contact with me was a letter that said in part that he had the means and motivation to pursue me. The financial impact of being sued three years to date has been burdensome, a game of financial attrition that I haven’t wanted to play. The suit cost me the equivalent of two year’s net income – the same as 48 of my car payments plus 48 of my house payments. My family members had to dip into retirement funds to help me.

    After receipt of a threat letter, I deleted my rate-your-doctor site postings and sent confirmation emails to opposing counsel. Since May of 2010, postings on the Internet by others include newspaper accounts of the lawsuit; readers’ remarks about the newspaper accounts; and blog opinion pieces written by doctors, lawyers, public relations professionals, patient advocates, and information technology experts. Dozens of websites by doctors, lawyers, patient advocates, medical students, law schools, consumer advocates, and free speech monitors posted opinions that a doctor or plumber shouldn’t sue the family of a customer for a bad rating. These authors never said they saw my deleted ratings – only the news coverage. Newspaper stories have caused people to call or write me to relate their own medical experiences. I’ve referred them to my lawyers. I’ve also received encouragement from other persons who have been sued over accusations of libel or slander.

    I’ve learned that laws about slander and libel do not conform to one’s expectations. I’ve read that online complaints are safe “if you stick to the facts.” That’s exactly the wrong advice. I did not want to merely post my conclusions. I wanted to stick to my recollection of what I’d heard. I don’t like to read generalities like “I’m upset. He did not treat my father well. He was insensitive. He didn’t spend enough time in my opinion.” However, such generalities are excused as opinion, hyperbole, or angry utterances. If one purports to say what happened, factual recitations can be litigated. The plaintiff must prove the facts are willfully misstated, but the defendant can go broke while waiting through the effort.

    I feel that defamation lawsuits are much too easy for wealthy plaintiffs. If I were to attempt suing a doctor for malpractice, my case would not proceed until I’d obtained an affidavit from another doctor, declaring that the defendant’s actions did not conform to established procedures. In a defamation suit, there’s generally no exit short of a judge’s dismissal order – which can be appealed by the plaintiff. Being called “defendant” is terribly personal, but the civil suit path is totally impersonal. During the three years that I went through depositions, interrogatories, a dismissal hearing, an appellate hearing, and a state Supreme Court hearing; I never once spoke to a judge. At depositions, the plaintiff and I sat opposite each other, while I answered his lawyer’s questions, and he answered my lawyer ‘s questions. We were not to speak to each other.

    Reply
  4. Court Watch
    Court Watch says:

    A man’s online post calling a doctor “a real tool” is protected speech, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The state’s highest court dismissed a case by Duluth neurologist David McKee, who took offense when a patient’s son posted critical remarks about him on rate-your-doctor websites. Those remarks included a claim that a nurse called the doctor “a real tool,” slang for stupid or foolish.

    On Wednesday, the court tossed a lawsuit filed by neurologist David McKee, who claimed he was defamed by several statements made by defendant Dennis Laurion on websites used to rate doctors, report the Duluth News Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Associated Press.

    Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit was the beginning of a four-year legal battle that ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the doctor had no legal claim against Laurion because there was no proof that his comments were false or were capable of harming the doctor’s reputation.

    “Referring to someone as ‘a real tool’ falls into the category of pure opinion because the term ‘real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false,” Page wrote.

    McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, said Wednesday he was disappointed and frustrated. “We need to change the law so someone with a personal vendetta who is going to use the Internet to make defamatory statements can be held responsible,” he said.

    It’s a frustrating end for McKee, 51, who said he’s spent at least $50,000 in legal fees and another $11,000 to clear his name online after the story went viral, resulting in hundreds more negative postings about him — likely from people who never met him.

    He hasn’t ruled out a second lawsuit stemming from those posts.

    Reply
  5. Nancy Cawley Jean
    Nancy Cawley Jean says:

    GREAT post, Dan. There’s quite a bit of difference between true libel and just an opinion, and this is definitely great advice for those in the medical field to follow.

    Reply
    • Dan Hinmon, Principal
      Dan Hinmon, Principal says:

      So true. I saw a news report last week about a contractor who sued a woman for claiming that his work was shoddy on Yelp and Angie’s List. Throughout the story they kept showing the photos the woman took of his sloppy work. Although a judge ordered the woman to remove the review, all I remember is those photos of his terrible work.

      Reply

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