For Physicians Facing Negative Online Reviews, the Law is Not on Your Side

January 18, 2014 4:29 pm Leave your thoughts

For Physicians Facing Negative Online Reviews, the Law is Not on Your Side

Physicians are increasingly concerned with reviews and ratings sites and the potential for negative feedback that might tarnish their online reputation management efforts. For many professionals in the medical field, it would seem obvious to get the law involved and sue the site.

Legal Precedent for Physician-Review Sites

Unfortunately, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in 1996 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. “Online locations that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say. The protected intermediaries include not only regular Internet Service Providers, but also a range of “interactive computer service providers,” including basically any online service that publishes third-party content. Section 230 grants forums, blogs, news websites and listservs broad immunity from certain types of legal liability stemming from content created by others.

Proactive Approaches Yield Powerful Results

Instead of responding directly to patients in comment threads, physicians should take the conversation offline. Rather than discouraging patients from sharing their personal experiences, it’s important to let their voices be heard. When physicians take action against patient reviews and ratings, they run the risk of alienating their current or prospective patients. Although they have no control over what people post online, they can shape their stories with the following tips:

  • Use your LinkedIn profile to tell your colleagues and patients more about yourself and your practice: academic coursework, credentials, volunteer activities, etc. Allow readers to learn more about you so that they feel comfortable when setting foot inside your office.
  • Start a blog with one post every week or two. If you want to grow and manage your online reputation, you must engage your patients online.
  • Create a YouTube channel and make a video or two about your practice.
  • Most importantly, firm up your profiles on ratings and reviews site, both general and niche-specific sites.

If you’re lacking ratings or reviews on any particular online forum, you should engage patients and encourage positive input. The question will be how to handle this task effectively. The best advice is to proactively seek these ratings and reviews rather than simply reacting to their appearance online.

Rather than hiding from ratings and reviews, medical practices should encourage their devoted patients to post their commentary online. More recent reviews will have greater visibility. When taking this proactive stance towards online ratings and reviews, be cautious so that you avoid violating the policies of these sites.

Online reviews and ratings make a major difference to a medical practice. The traditional method of referral through family members and friends is a relic of the past. These days, millions of patients head to the Internet to read reviews and ratings of healthcare professionals. In many cases, these sites rank on the first page of Google, giving them added visibility. Some physicians report that online ratings and reviews have affected how they go about their daily activities. Patient feedback provides a unique perspective to healthcare providers and offers an online venue that empowers patients to share their opinions. Physicians can utilize these ratings to improve their individual practices. The stated objective of most online reviews and rating websites in the medical niche is to help patients make more informed decisions about their healthcare providers. Like so many industries, the Internet has changed how patients seek out medical professionals.

Data Collection Differs Among Review Sites

Physician-review sites range from those that offer a physician profile (specialties, credentials, address, etc.) to sites that allow uncensored, anonymous and uncensored posting of comments. The problems arise for doctors when poor or negative ratings are posted online. First impressions are important, and presenting yourself well through a series of online profiles is a major step. Many sites will utilize software to collect data regarding physician histories and credentials. Doctors are working harder than ever to meet the needs of the patients, so how do they have the time or energy to manage their online profiles? If help is needed, a reputable online reputation management firm can assist in this process.

Keep in mind that word travels fast online. Many Internet Yellow Pages sites will share ratings and reviews with other sites. The reviews on Bing Local are “powered by Yelp.” Citysearch feeds ratings and reviews to more than a dozen other major sites. The same reviews that appear on Yelp and CitySearch appear on other sites. In the offline world, it can be hard to understand why a physician gets a reputation for good or bad service. However, the emergence of online reviews and ratings sites means that the answer has become a lot clearer. By figuring out which sites are the most influential, businesses will be at an advantage over their competitors.


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Barbara Wyer

CEO / CCO at The Review Solution
Barbara Wyer currently serves as CEO and Chief Creative Officer for Third Coast Interactive, Inc. The firm develops and supports apps delivering critical services for both business and consumers. Additionally, Barbara Wyer continues at the helm of Reputation Advocate, Inc. a global provider of online reputation management services.