The growth of online reviews has helped doctors all over the world grow their businesses as online reviews from real patients share their experiences at the offices of doctors. In addition, online reviews allow doctors to reach an audience they might not have been exposed to in the past since online reviews of doctors are able to be read by patients no matter where they are located in the world. While some patients make sure they report accurate information about their interaction with the doctor, there are other patients that try and take the opportunity to leave negative reviews because they did not like the doctor for some reason or they have another hidden agenda. In a time when online reviews matter more than ever before, one woman learned that a negative review can actually cost thousands of dollars because of its content.
In February 2017, Cynthia Imisides went to the office of Dr. Kourosh Tavakoli, a cosmetic plastic surgeon in Sydney, Australia, for surgery on her cheeks and nose. According to his website, Dr. Tavakoli specializes in breast augmentation and is a “household name for elite plastic surgery in Australia”.
After undergoing surgery, a judge ruled that Imisides falsely told her ex-husband that Imisides had been charged for a buccal fat procedure to remove the fat around the cheeks by the doctor but she claimed that the procedure had not been performed by Tavakoli. In addition, she repeated this claim in a negative Google review that was posted on the page of the doctor in September 2017.
Court documents later stated that the review said “the plaintiff charged the first defendant for a buccal fat procedure that he did not perform; that the plaintiff acted improperly in relation to a buccal fat procedure for the first defendant; and the plaintiff acted incompetently in relation to a buccal fat procedure for the first defendant.”
On June 24th, a judge ruled that when Imisides informed her ex-husband about the “false” procedures, she knew the statement was untrue and this was also the case when she repeated the false information in the Google Review.
The judge said that Imisides “knew that the statement made to the second defendant as to the non-performance of the operation was untrue and she knew that the second Google review statements were untrue.”
(In the case, Imisides is listed as the first defendant and her ex-husband is listed as the second defendant)
The court documents went on to say that, following the posting of the negative review, the traffic to the website of Dr. Tavakoli dropped by more than 23% in less than a week. The court documents also described the doctor as being “extremely distressed and embarrassed” after the publication of the online review. In late September, Imisides was served with a court order related to the review and the review was then removed from the website.
Even though the review was removed, she posted a second negative review about the procedure just one week before the trial was scheduled to begin.
The court ordered Imisides to pay Dr. Tavakoli $370,470 ($530,000 in Australian dollars) as damages for defamation. She was also ordered to pay his legal costs. The damages were awarded after the court documents surmised the impact that the defamatory Google reviews had on the business run by Dr. Tavakoli. The court found that “those allegations have been shown to be plainly untrue”.
The judge went on to say that the “allegations contained in the publication are extremely serious and go to the heart of the reputation of the plaintiff in his profession.” In addition, Imisides was ordered to not publish her negative review on Google.
The court decision was reached after a Supreme Court ruling in Australia found media companies can also be sued for defamation when it comes to public comments made on their Facebook pages.
As more patients share their reviews of doctors on websites such as Google and Yelp, the impact these reviews have on the daily business of doctors can be quite large. Patients that are interested in having a procedure performed by a certain doctor often turn to online reviews to learn more about the real experiences other patients have had with the doctor. Negative reviews can actually serve a positive purpose as they can be a red flag to patients and also show doctors how their patients feel about their experience in their office. However, false negative reviews can also have a bad impact on the ability of doctors to effectively take care of patients if people are afraid to visit them because of a negative review about services rendered that are not truthful. Plus, as shown in the court case described above, negative patient reviews can also have a negative impact on the finances of the person that posts the false review.