Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Eye Doc's Review in Focus

Ah, the Internet age! So much information at your fingertips... but how much of it is legitimate? Illusion has become one of the most widespread characteristics of Internet content.

For example, when you’re reading car reviews online, how many good reviews have been actually written by car salesmen trying to sell that car? How many bad reviews have been written by competitors trying to discourage you from buying that car? There’s no way of telling how legitimate any of those posts may be. In a sense, they’re almost worthless, except to the website owners who get money from advertising on the pages whether the content is trustworthy or not.

With that in mind, it’s hard to tell how much of Janet Auyoung’s story is true, and how much of it is spin. Auyoung claims to be a disgruntled patient of suburban Dallas eye surgeon Dr. William Boothe. After what she describes to Dallas' CBS-11 TV as a year-long battle with Boothe’s Plano, Texas clinic regarding a botched Lasik procedure, Auyoung went on Google and wrote a scathing summary of her experience on the popular search engine’s review section.

Now, she’s being served with papers from Boothe’s lawyer, Charla Aldous, who claims that Auyoung’s post on Google amounts to defamation of character.

To complicate matters, Aldous and Boothe assert that Auyoung is acting on behalf of the good doctor’s competitors in the highly-lucrative world of Lasik surgery. They want to depose Auyoung to see if she’ll rat on the other doctors they suspect have put her up to the negative post. But Auyoung isn’t backing down, and intends to pursue the case against her because she says she has told the truth.

Which, actually, is the best defense against an accusation of defamation. But what is the truth in this case? Is it true that Boothe botched Auyoung’s surgery, that he was discourteous to her, and that he refused to refund her money? Is it true that Auyoung had unreasonable expectations about Lasik surgery, that if she’d read the fine print she’d have known no refund would be available, or that she’s secretly working for a competitor who wants to steer potential clients away from Boothe?

Publicity Works Both Ways

Either Boothe doesn't understand how publicity works, that the Internet is an imperfect communication medium, or that he's not the perfect doctor he tries to play on TV (commercials). How much money might he lose if people see both negative and positive reviews of his services side by side on the Internet? There is another website called doctorscorecard.com which claims that Boothe is trying to shut it down because they won’t remove negative reviews patients are posting about him there. Is stamping out all negative press the best way to build up your reputation? Sounds like something they do in Russia, doesn’t it?

Not that Boothe doesn’t have the right to protect his business and his name. But is hiring a lawyer to go after one of your patients the smart way of doing that? What is it about Auyoung’s review on Google that poses an imminent threat to Boothe’s reputation, especially when the positive reviews of him on the same page look suspiciously like plants Boothe himself may have orchestrated? If his claims are accurate regarding websites like doctorscorecard.com, and these public review sites don't have adequate response/clarification mechanisms to moderate falsified posts about doctors, that’s a much larger battle to fight - and this isn't the way to fight it. Is chasing down disgruntled patients and trying to muzzle them the easy way out?

Spotlighting One's Own Problems

I’d never heard anything one way or the other about Dr. Boothe until I saw this news piece on TV last night. What little I knew about him came from his local advertising. But now that I’ve heard about this story and done a little bit of research on him, I’ve discovered quite a bit of negative stuff against Boothe that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Is any of it true? I don’t know, but if I was in the market for Lasik surgery, I’ve suddenly been prejudiced against Boothe from not only the material I’ve read online, but the way he and his lawyer seem to be mishandling the complaints by one of his patients. I don't want my doctor to be in the press or media under any circumstances unless he or she is receiving a humanitarian award.

Of course, if it’s determined that Auyoung is simply being a stooge for one of Boothe’s competitors, it’ll just make the whole Lasik industry that much less respectable in my eyes. A lot of these eye doctors have been touting Lasik as the great cure-all for optic problems and facial vanity, when they know it’s just a temporary fix. Eyes will continue to degenerate from simple aging, and people who spend lots of time looking at computer screens will still need to wear glasses. Back when I could have afforded Lasik, I asked my eye doctor about it, and she admitted that at my age and with the computer time I log each day, glasses would probably still be a part of my life.

Although she lost a Lasik patient, she retained her reputation with me, and I have to think that’s more important, even to an ambitious, successful doctor like herself.

Has Boothe Blown It?

It seems to me Boothe could have avoided this whole mess by simply being up-front and responsive to Auyoung from the very beginning. Is she blackmailing him into fixing the problems she claims to still have with her eyesight? How do other doctors handle troublesome patients (the Seinfeld episode about Elaine and the "charts" springs to mind)? Had Boothe been more proactive about customer service, perhaps Auyoung would have had a lot less ammunition to fire his way, and she may have ended up raving about him, like I have about my own eye doctor.

But, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

3 comments:

  1. Isn't it amazing how doctors can sue for a negative, yet truthful online review?
    And also isn't it amazing that the doctor's lawyer can go on tv and say that the online review was under the enticement of a competitor lasik surgeon, even though this statement is completely false and defamatory, the exact things the doctor is claiming the review is? Because if the doctor really believed this, would he settle as soon as possible to keep from bad publicity? If the review was really the work of a competitor, would the patient who wrote the review really go to the press to shed more light on the story? Of course, this is all just hypothetical.

    But also isn't it amazing that a doctor can subpoena the owner of doctorscorecard.com to a deposition to find out the identities of all those who wrote negative online reviews of him? What would you want with this information if you were a doctor with a record of litigation? It must be nice to have money and lawyer at your disposal, regardless of this little thing called the Constitution and the Right to Free Speech.

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  2. Boothe's history to say the least is quite disturbing:

    Several years ago Boothe was behind posting a website listing all of his competitors lawsuits. To this day he still tries to 'have it all'.

    In a previous lawsuit (Boothe v. Hanson), Boothe managed to suppress Hanson's internet postings which resulted in confidentiality from both parties, yet Boothe bragged to the owner of Doctorscorecard that he "spent a million dollars getting a site removed over three years ago. Therefore you have to know that I have a lot of resolve to protect my reputation."

    Just the tip of the iceberg, but as a lasik patient (advocate), I have an interest in protecting the public from doctors such as him. As for his reputation being damaged, I blame it on his history and his ego.

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