Does Responding to Online Patient Reviews Violate HIPAA?

You Can Respond to Online Patient Reviews and Maintain HIPAA Compliance

We manage marketing for approximately 130 dental practices across the US, including online reviews and reputation management. Maintaining HIPAA compliance is the absolute priority when we respond to reviews, but we do respond to positive and negative reviews with some specific parameters.

Below are some of the guidelines we follow when responding to online patient reviews to maintain HIPAA compliance:

Respond to all reviews, even the reviews with stars-only. Review responses are essentially a free, open platform to communicate your message, brand voice, and services.

Responding to positive patient reviews:

  • Thank the reviewer, and try to tie in a keyword that sets your practice apart.
  • We think this is important as Google continues to test reviews keywords in Google map search results.
  • For example:

“Thank you so much for your kind words, Jaimee! We are so glad you felt comfortable at our office. We work hard each day to partner with our patients on their dental health treatment…”

Responding to negative patient reviews:

  • We respond about taking all reviews seriously.  Then, we say that we are unable to comment about their feedback specifically due to HIPAA.
  • We let the patient know we read the review so that they feel “heard,” as that is important to every person who believes they had a negative experience.
  • But, when we can, try to explain our office protocols, philosophies and treatment procedures.  We explain this in a way that shows the dentist and practice truly “care” about their patients. It is a great way to positively communicate and turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.
  • For example:  If a patient leaves a review that the practice charged her for her last missed appointment and she is upset about it, we ask the practice about the situation.  If we learn the patient has missed three appointments and they have a policy of charging for a missed appointment, the review might be something like this:

“Jaimee, we want to assure you that we read our patient reviews and take all feedback very seriously. Due to HIPAA guidelines, we are unable to comment on your feedback specifically. However, we would like to communicate our practice appointment protocol, as we discuss this with all of our patients when they visit our office. We truly appreciate the time our patients take out of their busy days to schedule an appointment at XX Dental. Because we have lots of patients who would like to come in sooner than we might be able to accommodate them, every appointment on our schedule is an important one – for our team and our patients. We ask all patients to cancel their appointments at least 24 hours in advance so that we may have time to fill that time with another patient who needs to be seen. As stated on our website and in our patient forms, if, after two missed appointments or two cancellations within a 24-hour window of the appointments, we may assess a fee of $35 to hold the next scheduled appointment. This fee will be applied to the patient’s appointment at the time of service. We understand that emergencies happen, and sometimes missing an appointment simply can not be avoided. That is why we allow for one or two missed appointments before charging. Jaimee, if you would like to talk with us about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to call our office at XX.”​

This response is long, but it communicates everything we want it to do without violating HIPAA. Our experience is that the way companies respond to negative reviews can actually have a more positive impact than a positive review. HIPAA compliance is the key when responding for medical/dental practices, while “humanizing” the dentist, team, and experience is also important! And remember, when in doubt, don’t say/write it!

To learn more about the right review strategy for your practice or business, contact us at Whiteboard Marketing at info@whiteboard-mktg.com or 614-562-1912.

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