Online reviews remain the single most influential way for patients to voice their opinions of your medical practice. Whether true or false, these opinions will be raw, unfiltered, and emotionally driven. They will gravitate towards being high praise or strong disapproval. Your reputation as a healthcare provider hinges on these reviews and your responses to them.
While many business owners have the freedom to respond to reviews however they see fit, healthcare providers have their hands tied by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Such was the case when a physical therapy office was fined $25,000 in 2016 for posting testimonials on their website without patient consent. We’re here to tell you how you can manage your reputation and craft review responses while remaining HIPAA compliant.
What Is Protected Under HIPAA?
Briefly, HIPAA protects “protected health information” (PHI) which relates to “the individual’s past, present, and future physical or mental health or condition, the provision of health care to the individual” and anything that pertains to payment information. Altogether, there are 18 identifiers that indicate when patient information is considered PHI.
Bottom line: Avoid responding to reviews with information that can reveal a patient’s medical history or medical payment history. No matter what information they divulge in their review, you cannot respond in kind. Above all else, avoid using their name in conjunction with confirmation that you provided them with health care services.
“How Can I Possibly Respond to Reviews?”
Keep it anonymous. Keep it general. If the review is positive, a simple thank you will suffice. If the review is negative, again, thank them for taking the time to post a review and offer a phone number they can call to further discuss the issue. Negative reviews may be extremely biased, but people trust them nonetheless. You won’t have the flexibility to solve problems online, so your goal is to take the conversation offline. Only then can you offer a detailed, comprehensive solution to the patient’s grievance.
Here’s a great example of a HIPAA-compliant response to a positive review: “Our practice strives to provide each patient with the outstanding service and attention they deserve. We love hearing success stories. Thank you for the recommendation, and we wish you all the best! Sincerely, Dr. and team.”
Here’s an appropriate response to a negative review: “Thank you for the feedback. It is our hope that every patient leaves our care having had their medical needs met and exceeded. Please contact our facility at XXX-XXX-XXXX with any questions or concerns.”
Here’s what to avoid: “Dear Mr. Roberts. It was our pleasure to see you this past Tuesday concerning your intestinal surgery. Thank you for your positive review and recommendation!”
Not only does the above post include the patient’s name, but it also includes information confirming their medical history, including confirmation of their visit, the date of their visit, and details of the patient’s treatment.
Whether Positive or Negative, Respond to All Reviews
Now that we’ve discussed HIPAA compliance, it’s time to touch on how your reviews should be managed. We recommend responding to every review you receive, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. By doing so, you can mend fences and further build a rapport with your patients while showing potential patients that you are serious about providing the best health care experience possible.
Your goal is to maintain a trustworthy persona that your patients will recommend online as well as to their family and friends. Only then can you build your online presence, manage your reputation, and attract patients that would have otherwise never trusted you with their health and wellbeing.
Maintaining Compliance and Your Reputation
When you take into account reviews across Google, Facebook, Vitals, Healthgrades, WebMD, and other review platforms, managing your online reputation has never been more of a challenge — a challenge you must face nonetheless. Patients are oftentimes blindly trusting of online reviews. They may not know the people leaving reviews, but they value them nearly as much as personal recommendations, sometimes even more so.
Don’t allow your reviews and reputation to fall by the wayside. The only way to dominate your local market is by taking all aspects of your online presence into account.
Are you unsure of how to respond to Google reviews? Don’t have the time? Keeping up with reviews and crafting responses can be a time-consuming challenge. Proper review responses can help you maintain relationships, attract new patients, and grow your business. At LEVERAGE, our experienced team can provide the support you need to ensure that patient reviews are responded to in a timely and HIPAA compliant manner that both improves and extends the patient relationship.