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Doctor Fights Back Against Online Complaints

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, May 10, 2012

"I paid for Vaser HD and had very little fat around my abdomen," the patient wrote, according to documents filed in Virginia court. "I just wanted the sculpting look that is advertised." The patient added, "I paid almost $8K with misc stuff and I see absolutely 'no results' and feel that my love handles actually look bigger. Wasted money, bad experience."

The patient complained, in effect, that the physician's work did not live up to his/her expectations. Next to the patient's comment is a drawing of a frowning face, the court documents state. Another of the plastic surgeon's patients also was displeased with his work, writing, "run from him." But another declares, "I am thrilled with new body," the court records state.

Despite the mixed comments, the plastic surgeon, Armand Soto, of Orlando, Fla., apparently felt the tone of the criticism went too far. Last year, he filed a complaint in Henrico County Court in Virginia against 10 "John Does," whom he contended made comments on RateMDs.com that constituted defamation, "tortious interference" with contract rights, and business expectations. The "love handles" commentator was allegedly among the John Does.

So how much should a physician react to public, anonymous criticism, and how far should he or she go in self-defense? After all, there is a First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech, but how much criticism touches on one's work, and practice, especially from a patient who makes the complaint anonymously?

"Obviously, online forums create lots of interest on both sides," David Muraskin, an attorney who is in the litigation group of Public Citizen, the Washington D.C. based public interest group, which has opposed the physician's lawsuit, told HealthLeaders Media.

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