There was once a time when people looking for a physician would seek recommendations from other doctors, as well as from family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Though that’s still common, most people also take the time to look online for reviews. While online reviews are an invaluable tool for patients, they also open the door for disgruntled employees, competitors, and unhappy patients to engage in internet defamation. While legal action may be appropriate in some scenarios, that is not always the right solution.

As tempting as it may be to respond to negative or defamatory comments in an online response of your own, it’s important to remember your obligations and liabilities under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). If your denial or reply includes personal information, you open the door to significant legal trouble. Be extremely cautious and, when in doubt, stay silent or exercise extreme restraint, offering only generalities about office procedures and policies and inviting the commenter to reach out to the office directly for a private discussion of their experience.

It is also notable that not all negative comments rise to the level of defamation. Opinions, no matter how unfair, are not the same as defamation, which are defined as being factually untrue and as causing harm to your reputation. People can have their own opinions of whether they were treated badly, but they are not permitted to lie. Understanding the difference between the two can guide your response.

If a commenter’s remarks are voiced as negative opinions, your best response is probably to ignore it while at the same time ensuring that you have plenty of positive feedback from existing patients to outweigh harmful comments. Consumers who take the time to read reviews are familiar with internet trolls and can easily assess the credibility of a single negative voice in a sea of glowing remarks. Calling attention to this type of harassment is often counterproductive.

By contrast, verifiably false statements that do real harm to your practice should not be ignored, and legal action may be appropriate. If this describes your situation, your best strategy is to contact an attorney experienced in internet defamation to explore the remedies available to you. These may include reaching out to the website or pursuing action against the person that posted.

To learn more about the option that is best for you, contact our firm today to set up a time to speak to one of our knowledgeable attorneys.