This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney. You should consult an attorney if you have questions or need legal guidance.
Here are some resources that address common questions doctors have about dealing with online reviews: Namely, defamation, SLAPP, reputation management and non-disparagement contracts.
It's important for doctors to understand the difference between fair critique, which is protected speech, and defamation.
"It’s a completely understandable reaction: After a patient posts an online review slamming your practice for poor treatment, you want to fight back so you consider taking legal recourse and file a suit claiming defamation.
Unfortunately, it’s almost always the wrong reaction for the simple reason that a negative review is not necessarily a defamatory one and doctors risk doing more harm than good by failing to understand the distinction..."
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP)
Doctors should also make themselves aware of SLAPP statutes, as they vary from state to state:
"The vast majority of online reviews merely express opinions, which can’t be considered defamatory.... As such, they’re protected by the First Amendment right of free speech and a proliferating array of state-mandated anti-SLAPP laws."
Online Reputation Management
Reputation management companies often promise to hide (or remove) negative reviews while promoting positive reviews. Do they work?
"You know that online reviews are here to stay. Unfortunately, the same is true for online reputation management (ORM) companies that claim they can make bad ones go away.
They can’t — once something is posted online, it’s typically there in one form or another forever — and you shouldn’t consider their offers without fully understanding how they work..."
Finally, some providers use, or have considered using, non-disparagement contracts in their practice:
"It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. In an effort to forestall negative reviews, a doctor or dentist requires potential patients to sign a form limiting or prohibiting them from posting negative online comments.
The reality is that utilizing such “non-disparagement” contracts is not just a bad idea. If recent developments are any indication, it may also be illegal..."