Dallas Area ERs Fight Back Against Negative Online Reviews

Robert J. Fisher | 11.1.17

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The use of social media and online review websites is continuing to grow in popularity among patients as a tool to express their thoughts regarding the treatment provided by a physician or medical facility. This can create issues for providers when deciding how to deal with negative online reviews, which sometimes appear to be more numerous than positive reviews, as patients seem to be more willing to vocalize complaints than praise. As previously written by ByrdAdatto, it is often more beneficial to just ignore the negative reviews rather than call unnecessary attention to them, especially for private practices, but two free standing emergency room operators in the Dallas area have recently decided to fight back through the court system.

 

Highland Park Emergency Center and Preston Hollow Emergency Room filed a joint petition in the Dallas County District Court claiming that 22 individuals who posted negative reviews through Google were not actually treated at their facilities. The providers are asking Google to disclose the identities of these reviewers and provide data to help verify if the reviewers were treated as described. The providers claim that the comments were made by competitors to tarnish the providers’ reputation because the details in the reviews, such as procedures performed and the resulting bills, do not match the facilities’ records.

 

Lawsuits based on negative social media reviews are relatively new and it is unclear what the outcome of the suit will be. The providers’ claim is difficult to prove and so far there has been a low success rate for similar claims. One of the top issues in these cases is the concern for patient privacy. Many reviews describe the specific procedure or treatment provided to the patient-reviewer, which is concerning to the healthcare community because the patient-review could be identified with those details. Additionally, as mentioned above, providers are hesitant to expose publicly the negative reviews that serve as the basis of the lawsuit, but the hope is that these suits will deter persons from making false and exaggerated claims online. Another issue facing negatively reviewed providers is that companies like Google, Facebook, and Yelp are not eager to turn over user information because doing so hurts the company’s image and discourages people from using their platforms.

 

Filing a lawsuit against patients for negative reviews can turn into a slippery slope situation very quickly. The current climate around the healthcare community suggests that suing former patients would create even more backlash and negative press than if the negative reviews were just ignored. Until the courts demonstrate that they are willing to assist in stopping fake and fraudulent negative reviews, this cause of action should be a last option for a provider. For now, social media continues to be a double edged sword.  On one hand, it is an efficient, cost effective way to market services to a receptive community.  On the other, it is community that can easily and widely spread negative or false information. For more information regarding the current lawsuit, please see Sabriya Rice’s article on Dallas News located here.

 

If you have questions regarding how to handle negative reviews or protect your social media presence, please call 214-291-3200, or email Robert Fisher at rfisher@byrdadatto.com or Brad Adatto at badatto@byrdadatto.com.