There are some cases where patients would have never sued their doctor had they communicated after the medical malpractice. Oftentimes the patient is simply looking for an apology but the doctor will not or is discouraged from talking with them. This lack of communication can bring out more problems than had the doctor talked with or apologized to the patient. However, even in cases where there is not medical malpractice, if patients or surviving family members cannot speak to the doctor they may end up filing a medical malpractice lawsuit or letting out their feelings in another way. Sometimes former patients or relatives of patients will post negative ratings and reviews on the internet. These posts can be in the form of personal blogs or reviews on consumer sites such as Angie’s List. These consumer sites are viewed by thousands of people and sometimes they are relied on to choose doctors.
One doctor, Dr. Sagun Tuli, is suing the husband of a patient and the owner of a website for defamation. She is demanding $100,000 claiming that the blog post posted by the defendant has done damage to her career. The defendant, Gary Votour, is the husband of Dr. Tuli’s former patient who died. He was furious with himself, friends, and his wife’s doctor for not following up with his wife’s condition after discharge. He had hoped to speak with the Dr. Tuli, hoping that speaking about his concerns would help him heal. However, Dr. Tuli would not see him. Votour’s psychiatrist then urged him to write online about the concerns he had about his wife’s medical care. The response Votour received was a lawsuit. Votour has removed the blog post.
This lawsuit is part of a new trend of claims where doctors sue former patients or relatives of patients over negative ratings and reviews posted on the internet. The internet has given patients more influence, allowing people to comment on their experience and doctors have reacted to this with hostility. Doctors feel at a disadvantage when responding to these negative reviews because privacy laws forbid them from discussing their patient’s care in public. Additionally, doctors worry that any explanations they give might be used against them in a medical malpractice suit. Additionally, patients are more likely to post if they have had a negative experience even though such experiences could be rare. These posts can damage a doctor’s reputation. Also, the possibility of negative ratings may discourage doctors from taking on tough cases.
The Digital Media Project at Harvard University has been tracking lawsuits filed by doctors against patients for their online comments and their website shows seven cases filed over the past five years, though there could have been more. In some instances the patients took down the comments. In other cases judges ruled that the comments were protected free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. Doctors are unlikely to find satisfactory resolutions through the courts but they can encourage happy patients to write reviews online and try to address the concerns of patients who were not happy with their care.
But what do you think? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected] . You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.