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Posted on 03/04/2019 in Marketing for Orthodontists

4- Simple Tips for HIPAA-Compliant Online Patient Review Responses

4- Simple Tips for HIPAA-Compliant Online Patient Review Responses

Responding to online reviews while remaining HIPAA compliant can be tricky.

“How can we respond to patient reviews and remain HIPAA-compliant?”

This is one of the most common questions we get from orthodontists.

Orthodontists are adapting to the bitter reality in which consumers rate them on sites like Google Maps, Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals and Yelp as often as they do hotels, spas, restaurants and purchased goods and merchandise. For most orthodontists, the vast majority of reviews they receive are positive. Best practices suggest orthodontists respond to all reviews they receive online. However, by responding to online reviews, some providers are unwittingly violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA. The law forbids them from disclosing any patient health information without permission and that includes when replying to reviews online – regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative.

1. First and foremost, respond to every review, whether positive or negative.

If one of your patients paid you a compliment in person, would you turn and walk away as if the words were never uttered? Of course not! So, why wouldn’t you say thank you to a patient or parent who compliments you and your practice online? Besides good manners, this is a perfect opportunity to amplify the positive message about your practice!

"We believe that a 5-star experience is a must and we love hearing about positive experiences.”

Not responding to negative reviews online can give the impression that you don’t listen to or care about feedback provided by unhappy patients and aren’t dedicated to addressing areas where you and your team could use improvement. When responding to a negative review, never mention the practice by name or the name of the orthodontist. If a negative review is indexed by search engines, it could be displayed first in search results with those words highlighted.

Perhaps an even more compelling reason to respond to all reviews, regardless of sentiment, comes to us from Google. According to Evan Oder, founder and CEO of maplabs, in some instances, the default view of reviews on Google is to first display reviews that have been responded to. I think we can all see where this is going... If a business has only responded to negative reviews, by default, a business’s lowest reviews will be displayed first. Yikes!

2. When responding, say nothing that confirms the author of the review is an actual patient.

Be sure that the team member responding to patient reviews for your practice is aware of HIPAA rules and guidelines. HIPAA requires providers responding to patient reviews do so without disclosing the patient’s identity and/or their personal health information; such as, but not limited to, phone number, email address, appointments, diagnostics or test results. Violations of HIPAA can invite huge fines and even court-related costs and inconveniences.

“We really appreciate that you took the time to provide us with your feedback! We take our work seriously and look forward to continuing to provide all patients superlative care.”

You can learn from past mistakes of other healthcare providers.

3. Thank the reviewer for their feedback, while keeping your reply general and inexplicit in nature. 

If a parent or patient complains about medical advice, their condition, diagnosis or treatment, you cannot directly and specifically respond publicly and still be HIPAA-compliant. Be genuine, but generic in your reply.

Be positive and gracious about the review, but don’t mention or apologize for anything specific as this likely confirms the author as being a patient.

“We apologize your expectations were not met. Providing excellent patient care and service is our focus. Most of our patients and parents rave about the care they receive in our office as is evidenced by our 5-star rating on Google. Thank you for your review, we always appreciate the feedback.”

4. If responding to negative feedback online, let the reviewer know you take patient and parent satisfaction, as well as patient privacy, very seriously.

By informing the author that in order to ensure patient privacy, you are prohibited by law to handle individual situations online, you let future readers of this review know that you care about the patient’s concern as well as their privacy, but it also plants the seed that there are two sides to every story.

Provide the name of a member of your team, and their phone and/or email address, to whom the reviewer can reach out.

“Thank you for your feedback. We take patient satisfaction seriously. In order to protect patient privacy, we are required by law (HIPAA) to handle individual situations offline. We invite you to call the office at (555) 555-1212 and ask to speak with me directly so I can better understand the situation. Thanks in advance for your help ensuring both patient satisfaction and privacy – Dr. S.”

Because of HIPAA regulations, orthodontists have a tougher time responding to reviews. However, if handled properly, patient reviews, and your carefully crafted responses, can play a big role in conveying the positive culture, excellent care and outstanding level of service provided by your practice.

Need help with you orthodontic practice's online reputation? Like to learn more about HIPAA-compliant patient messaging and online virtual consultations? Request a free demo or schedule a quick call.


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