How Should Physicians Handle Defamation Claims?September 30, 2020
Social media allows people to anonymously post about various topics. Statements can also go unchecked and may not even be based on facts. Many times, remarks, observations, and criticisms are completely unfounded and based on false misinformation.
Physicians and other medical professionals are especially vulnerable to these kinds of statements, which is known as defamation. Defamation claims are categorized as either libel or slander. Libel is when defamatory statements are posted online or in writing. Slander is when defamatory statements are voiced out loud.
Online comments can be especially damaging since they can be easily shared with the public. Physicians may have options for handling potentially harmful comments and statements, which can damage their reputations and livelihoods. If a physician is concerned about their online reputation, they should immediately contact a lawyer.
Where are the Comments Usually Posted?
There are online reviews for many different types of services. Many providers do reviews on their own websites as well. When a website allows people to post comments, it can lead to false statements and defamatory remarks.
Once comments are posted, search engines can direct people there when others are researching physicians. This can lead to severe implications, such as losing potential patients, economic impact, and damage to their career. Sometimes, a patient sets this into motion over something as innocuous as a long waiting room time or a misunderstood comment made by a practitioner. Malicious comments can also be made by disgruntled former employees, ex-spouses, angry acquaintances, or even competitors.
What Constitutes Defamation?
To qualify as libel or slander, the statements have to be false and have caused harm to the physician’s reputation. There are countless negative statements online, but to prove defamation, the comments need to be factual. For example, if an angry patient claims that their physician prescribed the wrong medicine, this can be verified or refuted by looking at a copy of the prescription.
How Can a Lawyer Protect Their Online Reputation?
Being proactive is key to protecting an online reputation. Patient surveys are good tools that allow for positive and negative feedback and timely responses. A steady stream of positive information about the physician through the practice’s website and social media can help cover negative comments on search engines.
Patients do check rating sites when they are searching for medical professionals, but they do not necessarily believe everything they read. However, it is important to look over these frequently as well. One way to do this is to search the physician’s name and see what information is shown. Physicians and staff members can also humbly prompt satisfied patients to post reviews online.
Reading false statements can cause someone to feel uneasy, but it is best to not engage with the person who posted the defamatory comments. Rebuttals can cause more problems. Physicians can also mistakenly share confidential information about the patient, which could lead to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations.
It may be possible to determine the source of an anonymous post, and it may not even be a patient. Social media platforms have tools that can remove unwanted posts, so these platforms should be checked regularly. Even though potential patients may not be searching on social media, there is the chance that negative comments will get noticed and shared elsewhere on the internet. Comments can be hidden from others, revised, or deleted completely.
Should a Physician Address a Negative Comment?
Many unhappy patients will post negative reviews because they want to be heard, and there are ways to respond to these comments in positive ways. A non-defensive answer can satisfy the patient’s issue and improve the physician’s image. Many complaints are based on misinformation. For example, suppose a patient is angrily posting about not being able to find the office. A non-aggressive response about the office’s new location could be just enough to diffuse the situation.
It is important to remember that HIPAA laws must always be adhered to when responding to online comments. The patient’s personal information must not be shared at any time. It is best to speak about broad policies in general terms. Responding to positive reviews can also be beneficial, it shows that the practice is engaged with their patients and strives to maintain communication with them.
Should I Contact the Website About Negative Posts?
Getting negative comments removed from review websites is not always easy, but certain ones accept requests to have statements removed. Medical professionals are not always able to share solid evidence that can persuade rating sites to remove defamatory statements. The website may have some information that can help identify the author of the negative comments. In some cases, it may also be possible to contact the disgruntled party directly, resolve the problem, and ask if they can remove the negative comments.
Can I File a Defamation Lawsuit?
Physicians who believe they have been harmed by damaging reviews and wish to file character defamation lawsuits must be able to differentiate between negative comments and defamatory. To be defamatory, the comments must contain false accusations. Once the commentor falsely accuses another party, the author is no longer protected.
If the author of the damaging comments is identified and there is evidence, it may be possible to proceed with a suit. When listing them as a defendant, the fact that they are a former patient should not be noted in the initial court filings since this could violate HIPAA laws. If the author cannot be identified, the lawsuit may be filed against placeholder names, such as Jane Doe or John Doe. Then, a subpoena could be issued to find the author’s identity.
It is not possible to sue websites where negative reviews are posted since websites are protected by the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA). A HIPPA Protective Order may be required; this allows plaintiffs to file confidential patient records if the information is relevant to the case.
A defamation case focuses on the harm to the physician that was caused by false comments and statements. To prove that a physician’s reputation was damaged, the doctor may need to provide testimony, documentary proof, and witness statements. The physician could give evidence about how the defamation caused financial harm to the practice, such as accounting statements, pay stubs, and tax returns. It must be proven that the defamatory posting contained false assertions that damaged the practice. Defendants may also be ordered to remove their defamatory comments. These cases can be challenging, but an experienced lawyer can be helpful. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to assist with any physician employment law issues.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Physicians Protect Their Online Reputations
A physician’s reputation is very important to their practice. If you believe that someone has posted defamatory statements about you, reach out to our experienced Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. today. We help physicians with various types of issues, including defamatory claims. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.