As more people turn to the web to help them make decisions about their healthcare, that means more potential patients will check out online reviews about doctors. And many physicians will do everything they can to protect their reputations on the web. 

In some cases, that includes taking a patient to court because of negative online reviews.

Dr. David McKee of Minnesota recently lost a court battle in which he sued a patient’s son who had written negative comments about McKee on several doctor rating websites.

The negative reviews were related to comments McKee had made to the patient and his family. Though McKee claimed the online reviews hurt his reputation and his business, the court threw out the case on the grounds that the comments were true and therefore not defamatory.

Docs rarely win those cases

McKee isn’t the only doctor who’s gone to court recently because of negative online reviews, says a story in the Boston Globe. According to the Digital Media Project at Harvard University, there have at least seven court cases over the past five years or so related to online reviews of doctors.

Those lawsuits show how difficult it is for doctors to win. In all of those cases, patients either agreed to take down their comments to avoid a suit, or the court threw out the case.

In one of the incidents, a neurosurgery patient posted several negative comments about a surgeon online, including insinuations that the doctor was responsible for creating an unusually high risk of death for patients. But when the surgeon sued, the court threw out the case on the grounds that the patient was engaging in free speech about a public issue. The doctor was ordered to pay $50,000 in legal fees.

Most experts warn doctors against taking legal action because of negative online reviews. In addition to the potential for losing a costly legal battle, they warn that in many cases, filing a suit only brings attention to the patient’s complaints.

On top of that, the majority of doctors believe that online ratings have no impact on their business and don’t believe patients give them much weight when they make health care decisions.

What’s the best way to deal with those ratings? See our earlier post on the most effective ways to respond to negative online reviews.

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