So – is it against the law to pay patients for online reviews?

The short answer…

Yes.

The more nuanced longer version…

Giving anything of value for reviews without disclosing the gift can be considered false and deceptive advertising by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It does not matter if it is $1, an Amazon gift card, or free services. Or even entry into a sweepstakes where the patient has a mere chance to win something of value.

So, the “safe harbor” is that the party doing the review would have to conspicuously disclose the gift. Here’s what a safe harbor FTC compliant review might look like:

“Dr. Segal saved my mother’s life. He is my hero. (Dr. Segal gave me a $25 Amazon gift card for the review.)”

The disclosure devalues the review and makes it looks ridiculous. And in the real world, no patient receiving a gift discloses the gift. But that is what the FTC is getting at. They want the public to know if the reviewer had an incentive or bias. The public has a right to know so it can judge the validity of the review.

The simple version of the FTC’s position can be found on its FTC’s website. Select Questions and Answers are below.

I’m starting a new Internet business. I don’t have any money for advertising, so I need publicity. Can I tell people that if they say good things about my business on Yelp or Etsy, I’ll give them a discount on items they buy through my website?

It’s not a good idea. Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions or experiences of the endorser, and your plan could cause people to make up positive reviews even if they’ve never done business with you. However, it’s okay to invite people to post reviews of your business after they’ve actually used your products or services. If you’re offering them something of value in return for these reviews, tell them in advance that they should disclose what they received from you. You should also inform potential reviewers that the discount will be conditioned upon their making the disclosure. That way, other consumers can decide how much stock to put in those reviews.

A company is giving me a free product to review on one particular website or social media platform. They say that if I voluntarily review it on another site or on a different social media platform, I don’t need to make any disclosures. Is that true?

No. If you received a free or discounted product to provide a review somewhere, your connection to the company should be disclosed everywhere you endorse the product.

There’s a much longer guidebook published by the FTC which goes into great detail. If you are looking for an even deeper dive, see the Federal Register.

If the FTC takes action for non-disclosure of the consideration, both the practice AND the reviewer (in this case the patient) would be in the crosshairs.

The first question a practice might ask: How would the FTC find out if we pay for reviews?

The usual way. Disgruntled employee, ex-spouse, or competitor. It is complaint driven.

If the FTC does act, and the charge is false and deceptive advertising, the state Attorney General and medical licensing board may be next in line to seek blood.

In 2016 the NY Attorney General settled with two companies, Carmel Car Service and Medrite (an urgent care center), for $75,000 and $100,000 respectively for paid online reviews. The fine was ugly. The PR that followed was even worse.

Finally, it’s entirely unnecessary to pay for reviews. A plug for eMerit, the online review platform behind Medical Justice. eMerit captures patient feedback and gets it automatically uploaded to the dominant review sites. eMerit captures patient feedback at the point of service for upload. Your practice can also collect surveys via text message, email, and a survey link integrated into your existing EMR systems.

We provide video instruction on how to ask for candid feedback to promote quality of service. Virtually everyone who is asked says yes. Their reviews post online. Over 300,000 reviews have posted – and no patient has received a penny to do so.

Request a free consultation below to learn how your practice can leverage eMerit to put your best foot forward online. Medical Justice also specializes in protecting doctors from a bevy of medico-legal threats. We have solutions for medical board complaintsdefamatory patient reviewssham peer review, and more.

"Can Medical Justice solve my problem?" Click here to review recent consultations...

We’ve been protecting doctors from medico-legal threats since 2001. We’ve seen it all. Here’s a sample of typical recent consultation discussions…

  • Former employee stole patient list. Now a competitor…
  • Patient suing doctor in small claims court…
  • Just received board complaint…
  • Allegations of sexual harassment by employee…
  • Patient filed police complaint doctor inappropriately touched her…
  • DEA showed up to my office…
  • Patient “extorting” me. “Pay me or I’ll slam you online.”
  • My carrier wants me to settle. My case is fully defensible…
  • My patient is demanding an unwarranted refund…
  • How do I safely terminate doctor-patient relationship?
  • How to avoid reporting to Data Bank…
  • I want my day in court. But don’t want to risk my nest egg…
  • Hospital wants to fire me…
  • Sham peer review inappropriately limiting privileges…
  • Can I safely use stem cells in my practice?
  • Patient’s results are not what was expected…
  • Just received request for medical records from an attorney…
  • Just received notice of intent to sue…
  • Just received summons for meritless case…
  • Safely responding to negative online reviews…

We challenge you to supply us with a medico-legal obstacle we haven’t seen before. Know you are in good hands. Schedule your consultation below.


Learn how Medical Justice can protect you from medico-legal mayhem… 

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Request a Consultation with Our Founder

Medical Justice Founder and CEO, Jeff Segal, MD, JD, provides consultations to doctors in need of guidance. 

Meet the Experts Driving Medical Justice

Our Executive Team walks with our member doctors until their medico-legal obstacles are resolved - we've seen it all.

Jeffrey Segal, MD, JD

Chief Executive Officer and Founder

Dr. Jeffrey Segal, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Medical Justice, is a board-certified neurosurgeon. Dr. Segal is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; the American College of Legal Medicine; and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. He is also a member of the North American Spine Society. In the process of conceiving, funding, developing, and growing Medical Justice, Dr. Segal has established himself as one of the country’s leading authorities on medical malpractice issues, counterclaims, and internet-based assaults on reputation.

Dr. Segal was a practicing neurosurgeon for approximately ten years, during which time he also played an active role as a participant on various state-sanctioned medical review panels designed to decrease the incidence of meritless medical malpractice cases.

Dr. Segal holds a M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine, where he also completed a neurosurgical residency. Dr. Segal served as a Spinal Surgery Fellow at The University of South Florida Medical School. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa as well as the AOA Medical Honor Society. Dr. Segal received his B.A. from the University of Texas and graduated with a J.D. from Concord Law School with highest honors.

In 2000, he co-founded and served as CEO of DarPharma, Inc, a biotechnology company in Chapel Hill, NC, focused on the discovery and development of first-of-class pharmaceuticals for neuropsychiatric disorders.

Dr. Segal is also a partner at Byrd Adatto, a national business and health care law firm. With over 50 combined years of experience in serving doctors, dentists, and other providers, Byrd Adatto has a national pedigree to address most legal issues that arise in the business and practice of medicine.