RateMDs faces certified class-action lawsuit over alleged breach of privacy

A class action lawsuit against doctor review website RateMDs.com has been certified by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
The lawsuit was brought by Dr. Ramona Bleuler, a Vancouver-based physician, alleging that RateMDs breaches provincial privacy laws and “violates her right to be left alone” by posting profiles and ratings of health professionals without their consent.Privacy has also been breached by not verifying the accuracy of reviews and ranking health professionals in the same area by reviews, the claim says.Bleuler alleges in the lawsuit that her information is being exploited by a for-profit company and, further, that health professionals cannot remove their profiles.RateMDs.com features profiles of health professionals that contain contact information and reviews that users submit.The lawsuit was filed on behalf of health professionals in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. Story continues below advertisement

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According to a summary of its defence, included in the court filings, RateMDs said the information on their website is publicly available and non-personal, and therefore does not violate privacy.

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“The defendants say health professionals, including the plaintiff, do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the ratings and reviews published on RateMDs.com,” the summary states, adding the defendants believe “the public interest required the reviews to remain available on the website, as they help prospective patients make informed decisions about engaging with certain health professionals.”However, Judge Michael Thomas said that the fact the information is publicly available does not determine whether there is a violation of privacy.The judge said that the fact health professionals can flag reviews is “insufficient” and may leave them either having to participate with the website in a “manner that could violate their professional obligations” or just allow inaccurate ratings to remain there. Story continues below advertisement

Also, he said that the privacy issues go beyond just having names and contact information published, but also involve the information collected, centralized and competitively ranked against other professionals by a for-profit entity.“I do not find that it is plain and obvious that the plaintiff does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information published by the defendants,” Thomas wrote in his decision.“This information, which in some cases is publicly available and generally concerns professional activities, may nevertheless give rise to a violation of privacy if collected, managed and disclosed by the defendants in the manner and circumstances alleged.”

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Bleuler said in the lawsuit that individuals have the right to post reviews, but says the breach of privacy lies in RateMDs soliciting and creating a repository of reviews from which health professionals are ranked. Story continues below advertisement

“The issue is not individual reviews, but the aggregation of the reviews, the matching of the reviews to individual health professionals’ basic information and comparative rankings of the health professionals based on the reviews,” the judge wrote.RateMDs was quoted in the court filings as saying that Bleuler is “attempting to shoehorn a privacy claim to stifle warranted criticism with respect to how she practices medicine.”In a statement to Global News on Friday, RateMDs said it is a “key resource” for Canadians.“Offering a forum for patients to exercise their freedom of expression should not result in exposure to a certified class action proceeding,” said Diane Yu, the chief legal officer for VerticalScope Inc., the parent company of RateMDs.“We are disappointed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia’s decision to certify the class action brought by Ramona Bleuler on behalf of certain Canadian doctors and have filed a notice of appeal. We will continue to vigorously defend this case.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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