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The Press Reports Internet Attacks on Physicians

Posted March 05, 2009 in Home, Media

Recent News Articles Highlight Internet Harassment

Internet attacks on physicians by anonymous persons:   This problem has been going on for years, but recent news articles have drawn attention to this important issue.  Below are a few of the numerous articles that have been written on the subject.

From NBC News:  Docs seek gag orders to stop patients’ reviews.  Doctors seek gag orders to stop patients' online reviewsAlso from:  USA Today

These articles note that some Internet reviews or complaint sites are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices.  It goes on to say that their sniping comments can unfairly ruin a doctor’s reputation.

“Published comments on Web pages, blogs and/or mass correspondence, however well intended, could severely damage physician’s practice.”

Of particular importance is that the privacy laws and medical ethics leave doctors powerless to respond or really do anything. A physician is held to the highest standard of accountability for anything that he places on the internet (a website, blog or posting on a board).  On the other hand, the postings on sites are often completely anonymous, so that there can be no accountability for anything said on them.  For instance, RateMd’s postings are anonymous, and the site’s operators say they do not know their users’ identities. Furthermore, the operators won’t remove negative comments.

One of the main reasons that the operators do not remove even libelous comments is that they make money from such reviews attracting traffic to the sites.  A quick look at the ads on the site will clarify the economic motives of most of the sites.

In the article, the reader is warned, “Online doctor reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, and should certainly not be a patient’s sole source of information when looking for a new physician.”

Battle of the blogs:Negative web logs targeting surgeons increasing Plastic Surgery News

This informative article reviews the story of campaign to destroy the reputation of Dr. Coleman by creating websites and posting defamatory entries on multiple medical blogs.

 How my doctor fared on-line by Julie Deardorff’s column Julie’s Health Club in the Chicago Tribune

Insightful article which offers advice such as the following:

“Subjective information on user reviews is a little like gossip. On Angie’s List, I read about a genetic counselor (whom I’ve actually seen) who allegedly pushed a woman to terminate a fetus. Another person wrote that her doctor was “friendly, but condescending, and ultimately not helpful,” as she tried to make a major decision about treatment for fibroids.

A patient’s experience can be biased and manipulated—how do you know whether the opinions about a physician even come from that doctor’s patient?—but Given said a bigger problem is that there’s not enough information posted yet., for, example, has ratings on 12 percent of U.S. doctors, Given said. In Canada, the site has information on nearly 60 percent of physicians. Moreover, even if the sites start to get more feedback, it’s not necessarily representative…One nasty comment left by a patient who wanted a drug that wasn’t medically necessary, for example, could damage a reputation or career.”

Gagging patients from online criticism from ZDNet Healthcare

This article reinforces that like RateMDs allow anonymous comments that can turn one unhappy visit into an online jihad.

Doctor ratings: Is your healthcare hot or not?   

Online, patients-as-consumers are reviewing doctors. It shifts the balance of power, but raises the question of whether consumers can simply rate an M.D. like they’d review an HDTV. By Shari Roan ?May 19, 2008

Ends her article with the message, “the reviews on,, and other sites are skewed by disgruntled patients and are thus unfair, pushing some doctors to near-ruin after a single post.

“These sites don’t yield enough power yet to get bad doctors to change. And in the meantime, they may hurt good doctors,” says Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a Washington, D.C., family physician and author of “Sacred Trust: The Ten Rules of Life, Death and Medicine,” a new book promoting patient empowerment. “It only takes one or two scathing comments and a doctor is put in a terrible position.”

The sites, more than two dozen of them, vary in how they operate, their scope of information provided and their efforts to be fair. But the trend is toward free, anonymous, no-holds-barred forums. Some sites have grown out of existing ratings services. Five years after he started the hugely popular, John Swapceinski and his business partner turned to medicine, launching RateMDs in 2004.”


Censorship, or Sensible Citizenship? Physicians Take steps to Stop Online Libel  Feb 24 2009
Published by Presidio Insurance under National News

Please refer to the recent post by Dr. Coleman “A Note on Internet Harassment”

© Coleman 2008