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How to Be HIPAA Compliant when Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Just as our interconnected online world creates efficiencies for medical practice management, it also creates unexpected snafus that require medical practice staff to develop new processes and procedures to handle these situations. With the surge of online reviews by consumers and the trend for these reviews to inform public opinion and choices, medical practices need to develop a strategy to respond to any negative reviews in a way that is HIPAA compliant.

Online Reviews Changed the Way Consumers Select Doctors

It is essential to have a strategy in place to respond to negative reviews posted about your medical practice now that consumers use online reviews more to select providers. According to a survey of 50,000 patient reviews, 25% of patients now find their doctor on the Internet based on online reviews. Even if they begin their search the traditional way, with referrals, they typically confirm what they are hearing by an online search.

If you choose not to respond to negative reviews online, that review could negatively impact your business. When people hide behind their computer screen, it is impressive how vitriolic online reviews can be. But, before you respond to a negative online review, you must also take into consideration Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance when you respond.

How Do You Respond to Negative Online Reviews?

Physicians must be incredibly careful responding to a negative online review, because a direct rebuttal might be illegal due to HIPAA and state privacy laws. Even if a patient chooses to disclose personal information online, a physician is still prevented from doing so without that patient’s consent. Here are some ways to legally take control of the situation.

1. Respond to a critique in a general way without acknowledging the person was a patient of your practice.

Critique: “I had to wait three hours to be seen, and when I finally got into the examination room, Dr. X was rude and impatient.”

Legal response: “When scheduling patients, it is our policy to adjust the time with the doctor as necessary for that patient’s particular needs to keep our schedule on track. As a result of emergency situations, it is possible for us to be behind schedule from time to time.”

This response does not acknowledge that the original poster was a patient, but it does allow the doctor or the medical practice to give the public another perspective and the general treatment philosophy without any specifics of a particular patient. A subtle difference, yes, but important nonetheless.

2. Take the conflict offline.

Oftentimes, a direct response offline is the best approach. A doctor can acknowledge they saw the negative review when speaking or writing to an individual privately and ask what can be done to rectify the situation. With the best outcome, a bad review can turn into a positive.

3. Use a negative review to educate.

When a patient disagrees about your treatment plan and posts about it online, take the opportunity to use it as a teaching moment for the public. For example, if you didn’t prescribe antibiotics because it was a viral infection, explain why a physician would make that choice. Again, without referring to the specifics of the patient directly.

4. Water the flowers, not the weeds.

Focus on the positives and encourage the fans of your medical practice to share their views online. This is not only legal, it’s encouraged! The more positive reviews your medical practice gets will drown out the negatives and give a more representative view of your practice.

How to Use this Information

You can rely on KKB, P.C. to identify areas of opportunity for your medical practice and provide ideas to navigate healthcare practice in the 21st century. We are here to help you build strategies! Please call us at 303-815-1100 or contact us online today!

How has your medical practice responded to negative online reviews?

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