Do My Review Responses Need to Be HIPAA Compliant?

Practis Blog

There’s a chance that you’ve had a review left for you or your practice that really made your blood boil. There’s also a chance that you really wanted to respond to that person with all of the thoughts that first came to your mind. 

Hopefully you stopped and realized that in the healthcare space there’s always room for a little bit of HIPAA, but if you didn’t here’s a thought for you: if you have to ask if it needs to be compliant, you should assume it does. 

You may be thinking “if it’s got to run through HIPAA, then I just will ignore it.”

Let’s get that thought out of your head. It’s absolutely crucial that you respond to 100% of your negative reviews, and about 10-20% of your positives. Why? Well, it presents the ideas that a) you care about what your patients say and b) you care about your reputation. Very few people are going to pick a practice with a one star average because they paint a picture of what they’d be getting themselves into. Imagine a one star reputation, and then imagine what that waiting room would look like. Not pretty, right?

The flip side to this is that not all negative reviews are direct representations of your practice or your bedside manner. For example, you may have received a two star review solely based on the fact that your chairs were uncomfortable, or the landscaping outside wasn’t perfect, but in that same review they mention that you, as a doctor, were brilliant. Regardless, this is your opportunity to show that you’re not just being reactive, but rather assessing the situation and responding in a level headed, compliant manner. Here’s how you do just that!

First, Remember What PHI Really Is!

As a healthcare provider or entity, it’s your responsible to understand what a patient identifier can be. Sure, the patient is responsible for initiating the review, and they can do anything they want to about their own identifiers. However, it’s up to you to determine whether or not you can confirm any of that information, and the answer should always be that you cannot confirm any of it.

For example, let’s say Sally left a review stating that she received surgery on Thursday, but had a terrible experience with Dr. SoAndSo. If Dr. SoAndSo responds to that review and says that he remembers Sally and that she was in great spirits, he’s confirming that she was, indeed, a patient, and that her name is Sally. Unfortunately, this is a double whammy of what not to do. This is not in compliance with the privacy rule, and thus can result in fees or lawsuits. Instead, craft your response to be very ambiguous. Neither confirm or deny their status as a patient, and never release any information about their time with you. After you’ve mastered this, here are some other tips: 

Wait a Day or Two

What!? You want me to wait to tell this person they’re wrong? Why yes, we do indeed. Think of this as a form of meditation for yourself. You take a moment to step back and assess the situation and follow the next few tips on responding so you don’t come off as aggressive. But wait, the perks don’t end there! Waiting is actually a way to make your reviewers feel that you actually are taking the time to develop a unique response and look at their feedback. If you just blast out a template, or send an immediate response, they may think that you’re less of a human and more of a response-sending robot designed to step all reviews. Nobody wants to see that!

Verify the Patient’s Status and Look For Red Flags

Because you are the healthcare entity or provider, you can obviously confirm or deny they were a patient…without letting the world know. If you receive a review that is completely false then you have every right to fight that, and you should. Beyond that, if you receive a review that slanders you or your practice in a malicious manner, or violates the policies of the review site, then you may be able to get that removed. It’s always good to take a few extra seconds to verify this, and of course take a breather!

Always Give a Thanks

It’s hard, we know. But sometimes you do have to grin and bear it, regardless of how hard it may be. At the end of the day, any feedback is helpful, and you should make sure that your reviewers know that. If you go on the defensive you risk scaring people into thinking they should never leave reviews for you, or you could potentially open the floodgates to a number of attacks via reviews. Simply start the beginning of your response with “we thank you for taking the time to leave your feedback” or something similar and you’ll be on your way to a positive response. 

Don’t Give Attention to the Negatives

This is the easiest thing to do, but refrain! As we mentioned, you’re going to want to battle against the negative part of the review, but IF there is a positive part, focus on that. If they thank your doctor for his pleasant demeanor, make sure you’re giving that some attention. Your responses always should give off warm fuzzies, and let your potential patients know that patient experience is key. 

Invite Them to Call

Last, but certainly not least, is giving the patient an open invitation to give you a call or visit you in person. You should never provide your personal contact information here as that could open the flood gates, but you do want to let them know that they have the ability to bring this issue up at any point in time. Again, this proves to your viewers online that you’re capable of looking past the negatives and creating a proactive approach to a solution. 

Let the Pros Do It For You!

Okay, this is really the last one. We’re here to help you make sure your responses are fully HIPAA compliant. As a healthcare focused agency, it’s in our blood. Contact us today to learn more about our reviews management program and we’ll help you turn your negatives into positives.