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Doctor Fights Back Against Online Complaints

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, May 10, 2012

On neighborhood Internet community bulletin boards, like the ones I frequent, people write their joys, concerns, and gripes about everyday life, whether it's about a house painter, or the local school system. They also rave about doctors they are crazy about, and occasionally nix those they definitely wouldn't recommend.

But the physician talk is only sporadic, and generally not too specific. There seems to be an understanding that the physician probably lives nearby and might see the negative comments.

On national forums that focus on assessing physicians, such as RateMDS.com, a rush of comments cascade around-the-clock, reflecting patients' feelings about their doctors. The statements roll down the Web, with immediacy: The doc was "the best," (18 minutes ago!); "Very rude," (14 minutes ago!). The authors are anonymous, but the subjects of their commentary are sometimes identified, albeit only with a last name.

Indeed, physicians see their patients one-on-one, but what happens behind closed doors can quickly become open to debate on the Web, with patients telling all, if they want. That happens in the free market of ideas and conversation. And it's a reminder that there are some things a physician, or anyone, can't take too personally.

Then again, when you consider that your professional reputation and livelihood are at stake, you might decide to go to court.

That's what happened in Virginia when a plastic surgeon took umbrage at an anonymous patient's online comment on RateMDS.com, criticizing his liposuction and announcing his/her intent to sue the specialist for damages. The patient wrote that the surgeon's work was supposed to trim him (or her) down, but the targeted spot seemed to worsen after surgery. The patient was not identified as man or woman.

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