ACA Blog

Nov 20, 2013

Beware the poison pen- court mandated clients and anonymous review sites

It seems like every day there is a new online review site. While there was a time when you had to elect or even ask to be listed on these sites, nowadays many add you without consent or in most cases without you even being aware that you are on them. The premise of these sites is that it offers a free way to see how your potential doctor is viewed by others. Some of these are totally above board and while they allow for anonymous posting, they have a review process that at the minimum calls for verifying an email address. Sadly many lack any such review and anyone without ever so much as actually having had your services is free to post comments no matter how negative without so much as entering their email. It is then up to the clinician to find these negative comments and IF they can find a means of contacting the website they have to go through a process to try to have it removed via challenging the posting (if that is possible).

Most folks have something better to do with their lives than to attack or sabotage clinicians on line. I mean, it is a free country and you can see whatever professional you like, if you dislike them you can simply stop going. If they are really terrible or rubbed you the wrong way then make a decision if you want to confront them or go to a site where you can discuss your experience; there is nothing wrong with discussing real issues: making things up is another story entirely. Add to this angry folks who may have had to work with a clinician because they were court ordered to do so and you can have a real mess on your hands. 

As a clinician I find myself at times having to give reports or testimony in court cases. I have been certified as an expert witness by many different courts and while I have a proven track record of being unbiased, meaning I do not pick sides, my testimony has been crucial from time to time in the judge or jury determining the outcome of a case. In these situations you can bet that at least one side potentially hates or at least dislikes me. At times like this, free and readily available anonymous sites can give a disgruntled individual who has access to a computer (even many inmates have such access) all they need to get a sense of revenge. Many of them set out to do just that.

A bit ago I received my first ever negative report on such a site (it was followed quickly by another one on another site). The person listed a fake first name which was optional and then proceeded to say some of the most negative tripe that they could think of. There was no need to enter an email address and no way to verify that they ever even knew me nor my office; they simply had to select “send” and the information was there for all to see. Did I mention that this negative comment happened within hours of my testimony in a court case? Did I mention that the “anonymous” person used a very distinct phrase that I had heard only once before and by the individual who just lost a case in part due to my testimony? I was shocked to learn of this and very disappointed as I use the highest ethical standards and am very conservative in giving testimony, preferring sound clinical judgment over picking sides or making grandstanding conclusions.

There are options as a clinician when faced with such an issue. For a fee of around $50.00 per month you can hire an agency that will enter your name in their computer database and conduct regular searches of the common and less common rating sites and should they find a negative report they will automatically put in a request on your behest challenging it. Though expensive, it is easy to do though you will miss out on reading any of the negative feedback which may be deserved and could possibly help you to make adjustments in your practice as needed. Another option is to simply ignore the online reviews and let whatever happens, happen. While you could also periodically search your name to see if any listings come up, positive or negative as well as review the sites that have you listed and review how they allow comments to be placed. If you select this option, which is what I preferred to do, you can then elect to request to have your name removed from any website that you feel lacks the credibility required to adequately manage ratings. Though this can be time consuming and frustrating, it allows you to see just where your name is and also allows you to read the comments personally. After all, a negative comment may be justified and once seeing it it may help you make any adjustments that you can to improve. 

As a practitioner you may not always be dealt with fairly. You may not 
always find folks who have a standard of morals or ethics that you are 
comfortable with and as you work with court systems or mandated clients you just may find one with a poison pen. Act accordingly, but do not fail to act professionally.
________________________________________________________________________
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org). 

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