Anonymous, phony online reviews leave docs vulnerable

As more patients make decisions regarding primary care and surgical procedures based on information available on the Internet and online reviews, doctors and hospitals are at a higher risk of losing credibility and business by phony and anonymous negative reviews, according to BuzzFeed contributor Jake Rossen.

Patient review websites like, which lists more than 700,000 physicians, provide doctor information and reviews from patients. However the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevents doctors from discussing patients or their conditions, which leaves physicians vulnerable against anonymous Internet attacks questioning their skills and character, according to the article.

There's no way to verify the patient even saw the doctor in question, or match the poster's IP address to the doctor's practicing location, which make it difficult for doctors to respond with libel or defamation lawsuits, according to the article.

"I'm surprised review sites haven't been more aggressive to create authentication," said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University's School of Law, BuzzFeed reported. 

To help avoid these situations, physicians must take the time to have open and honest dialogue with their patients, so patients don't feel disenfranchised or unaware of their conditions, Leana Wen, M.D., author of "When Doctors Don't Listen" and director of patient-centered care research at George Washington University, told Rossen.

Review websites are not legally required to intervene when doctors claim reviewers defamed them, FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. However, websites do share a common interest with doctors to make sure they remove false reviews, so doctors should always report fake reviews to websites.

Of the 360 healthcare providers who responded to a 2013 survey, conducted by online appointment booking site ZocDoc, 85 percent said they keep an eye on what is said about them online, FierceHealthIT previously reported. What's more, 36 percent of respondents said they also keep track of what is said about their competitors.

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