Defamation lawsuits, even if won, can permanently damage a physician’s career, often attracting hatred and ridicule. In addition, they can result in loss of income.

According to an article in StatPearls, defamation takes the form of either slander or libel, frequently involving unfair publication of derogatory or untrue statements regarding another person or a group of people. The increasing popularity of social media has led to a rise in healthcare-industry defamation lawsuits, particularly cyber defamation cases typically involving the Internet.

It would behoove physicians to be able to distinguish between an opinion versus defamation. Medical writer Dr. Naveed Saleh, MD, MS notes that defamation involves damaging an individual’s reputation in an unfounded, unactual, or unjustified public manner. Authors of the aforementioned StatPearls article state that defamation exists in numerous forms, citing examples like a letter of recommendation in which one medical professional writes that their colleague is “unstable,” despite having no proof of any history of mental illness. Such unsubstantiated claims are defamation lawsuit magnets. If a medical professional is going to accuse a colleague of something like stealing or committing malicious acts, they must have proof to back their assertions.

Check Social Media Sites on a Regular Basis for Negative Reviews

StatPearls article authors encourage physicians to take certain steps in effort to protect themselves from cyber defamation. They suggest checking sites like Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and Google on a regular basis to search for any negative medical-practice reviews, as this allows physicians to identify and resolve an issue in a timely manner before things spiral out of control.

Upon finding an extremely negative review, physicians should inform the social network to have them review and possibly remove the post. If a physician does find negative online comments, it is crucial that they and their employees avoid an impulsive response. As a rule, physicians should limit online interactions in general, thereby limiting public exposure. According to the authors, if a physician does feel compelled to respond, they should do so privately and in a calm manner. Furthermore, physicians must ensure that any response given does not reveal private medical information, as doing so may lead to costly HIPAA fines.

Physicians must always be mindful when saying or writing anything about a person or group of people. Dr. Saleh notes, for example, that when writing a referral, physicians must avoid making subjective comments, providing fact-based, objective clinical opinions instead. He also advises physicians to be aware that when posting negative comments, disgruntled patients typically do so across many social media sites. They may even post fake reviews to further damage a physician’s reputation. As such, maintaining an accurate paper trail and backing assertions with documentation is essential to a physician’s defense. Without a solidly backed defense, physicians face detrimental career and life consequences.