How Can Doctors Respond To and Remove Fake Reviews from the Internet? | Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP

A positive internet reputation is an expected prerequisite for conducting business. Negative internet content, including negative reviews, can destroy an operation. Unfortunately, an easy way to attack a business is by leaving a FAKE negative review on the internet. This nefarious practice has placed a burden on professionals in all industries to monitor client testimonials and reviews. While all professionals and practices face the potential for online reputational attacks, doctors face a unique set of issues when dealing with online disputes about medical services.

Laws protecting medical information, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), prevent medical professionals from publicly disclosing certain details about clients. While this protection is necessary to safeguard a patient’s confidential information, it does create a complicated atmosphere for doctors or medical practices being defamed by a patient on the internet. A doctor, dentist, or other medical professional cannot disclose patient details on the internet even if releasing those details is necessary to defend their practice against a defamatory reputational attack. While this complicates a medical professional’s ability to combat fake reviews, professionals still have options. KJK has put together a comprehensive guide for medical professionals who want to respond to fake reviews.

WHAT PLATFORMS DO PATIENTS USE TO REVIEW DOCTORS?

Medical professionals commonly receive reviews on the following platforms:

A medical professional can also be reviewed in a social media post or on a forum site like Reddit. The growing virtual nature of the modern medical landscape effectively guarantees that a practice will receive both positive and negative reviews in its operational lifetime. While negative reviews are often protected as a First Amendment free speech right, FAKE negative reviews are unlawful and constitute defamation.

While review platforms take steps to prohibit and remove fake reviews, identifying defamation can be nearly impossible for an outsider who did not experience the situation. Thus, fake reviews typically remain published until the publisher removes the review or updates it, or the person being defamed secures a court order demanding removal of the fake review. You can learn more about litigating to remove fake reviews here.

HOW DO I IDENTIFY A FAKE REVIEW?

Sometimes, a fake review is obvious. Fake reviews often contain dramatized, fabricated, or outright false testimonials. But fake reviews can also be more subtle. For example, when a doctor or medical practice receives an influx of one-star reviews with no accompanying text, this can indicate that the review is part of a fake review attack.

Fake reviews commonly include the following indicators:

  • The username contains a pun, impersonates a famous fictional character, or utilizes a salacious pseudonym
  • The review does not represent any possible customer experience
  • The reviewer has no information listed in his or her profile
  • The reviewer created the profile on the same day that he or she left the review
  • The reviewer has not reviewed any other professionals or businesses
  • The review appears to be written by a competitor
  • The review repeats the same allegations or grammatical style as other reviews

BEST PRACTICES FOR DOCTORS RESPONDING TO REVIEWS

Medical professionals should consider refraining from responding to a negative review unless it is clearly fake. If a medical professional decides to respond to a fake review, he or she must be extremely careful to not make a bad situation worse. Providers should keep the following best practices in mind when responding to fake reviews:

1. Remember That All Medical Providers Have Confidentiality Obligations Under HIPAA

To align responses with HIPPA obligations, a medical professional should not disclose any personal identifying information about a patient. This includes, but is not limited to, name, age, medical condition, or any prescribed medications. A medical professional should not even acknowledge that the reviewer was a patient. A patient’s own disclosures do not negate a medical professional’s confidentiality obligations.

2. Avoid Impulsive Responses

While negative reviews can be distressing, quick responses often yield poor results. The target of a negative review should take the time to reflect on the substance of the review, and if absolutely necessary, should carefully craft a response.

3. Consider Reaching Out to the Reviewer Privately

A negative review presents an opportunity for a practice to provide excellent customer service and to remedy a poor experience. Often, negative reviews are published by individuals who feel that his or her concerns went unaddressed. Taking simple steps to remedy concerns often results in a patient removing or editing a review. Note that medical practice can also have an attorney reach out on their behalf.

4. Weigh the Pros and Cons of a Response

A response can show other viewers that your practice cares about addressing concerns. However, a response could also increase the visibility of the review. Furthermore, a poorly crafted response could put you at risk of the Streisand Effect.

5. Speak Only About General Office Practices and Procedures

If you determine that you must respond to a negative review, speak only about standard office protocols. This will ensure that you do not accidently disclose a client’s personal information.

6. Create A Standard Review Protocol

Medical practices and professionals should be prepared before they receive a negative review or testimonial on the internet. Providers should devise an office policy that can be followed in the event that negative internet content is published.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

WHAT DO I DO IF THE PERSON LEAVING FAKE REVIEWS ABOUT MY PRACTICE IS USING AN ANONYMOUS USERNAME?

People often utilize pseudonyms when authoring fake reviews. This is because people wrongly assume that hiding behind a fake username will protect their identity from being discovered. People utilizing fake profiles can have their identities unmasked. An internet attorney can use a combination of cyber investigation techniques and litigation tools, including subpoenas, to ascertain the identity of an anonymous online actor. Once a person’s identity is discovered, usually by tracing the Internet Protocol address (IP address) associated with the publication, the defamer can be held accountable for their publications in a civil lawsuit.

WHAT LEGAL CLAIMS DO I HAVE IF I AM THE TARGET OF FAKE REVIEWS?

Legal claims vary greatly depending on the date of publication, substance of the reviews, and the relevant state. Fake reviews often implicate multiple civil claims. We have filed lawsuits against fake reviewers for defamation, tortuous interference, false light invasion of privacy, and more. An internet attorney can help you assess your legal claims.

CAN I GET THE REVIEW PLATFORM TO REMOVE THE FAKE REVIEW?

Sometimes websites will remove fake reviews if they see that the reviews are coming in from the same IP address, the context of the message violates a site term of use, or they notice that there are multiple reviews coming in at the same time. Unfortunately, websites typically only get involved if the conduct at issue is outrageous and obvious. If the review seems like it could be true and does not violate a site term, you will have to get a court order to secure its removal.

FAKE REVIEWS CAN BE REMOVED FROM THE INTERNET

Just because doctors have a specific legal and ethical obligations that govern what information can be made public, does not mean that providers should accept fake reviews. Fake reviews, whether they’re about a doctor or another business professional, can be removed from the Internet.

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