How Medical Providers Can Address a Negative Review and Maintain HIPAA Compliance

For Lawyers, Doctors, and Dentists

Page 1 Solutions -
September 2, 2015

Managing a business’s Internet marketing is a lot to keep up with, and often involves knowledge of the law. A huge piece of Internet marketing is reputation management, or the practice of monitoring and addressing public online reviews.

Reviews validate the customer experience and put a potential customer in the shoes of an existing one. Reviews are also a great way for a business to receive honest feedback, though sometimes it is the only way customers will indicate a complaint.

Reputation management is important for all businesses, but is especially tricky for medical providers. Read on to learn why medical professionals have a particularly hard time dealing with online reviews, and what they can do to effectively handle a negative review.

Why Medical Providers Are at a Disadvantage

Medical providers are governed by HIPAA, or the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which took effect in 1996. Protected Health Information (PHI) is part of the Privacy Rule under HIPAA, and prohibits medical providers and their business affiliates, known as “covered entities,” from sharing information about health status, provision of health care, payment history or general medical records of a current or previous patient.

 The terms are rather open-ended, and it is in the best interest of a covered entity to comply with a broad interpretation of the rules rather than to push the boundaries on what information is considered protected. In fact, various critics of HIPAA say that medical professionals are unsure exactly what their responsibilities are for ensuring legal privacy, and generally respond by over-protecting information.

If a medical practitioner receives a negative review online, he or she is at a disadvantage for publicly resolving the issue because of HIPAA compliance. A medical provider cannot state his or her side of the story, correct the patient on any misinformation, or justify medical decisions, essentially leaving the medical provider feeling powerless and vulnerable. Patients can say anything they want about their experience, and can even make up stories or state false accusations. Yet the doctor or medical provider is unable to dispute the claims and defend his or her medical and practice reputations.

Embrace Reviews with a Public Response

Though dentists, plastic surgeons and ophthalmologists must be aware of Protected Health Information, they are not entirely defenseless against a negative review. The best way to form a public response is to thank the reviewer for their honest feedback, and publicly invite the patient to continue the conversation offline to discuss the situation further and reach a mutual resolution. This response shows you care about customer service and want to resolve the complaint while still staying within HIPAA compliance by not revealing any personal information about the patient. You also put the ball in the reviewer’s court it in a welcoming way, so the onus is now on him/her to follow up.

In general, it is better to deal with the negative review than to leave it out there unacknowledged. The hands-off approach opens the door for other negative reviewers to jump in, and could even deter happy patients from leaving a positive review.

Practitioners must also constantly encourage their patients to leave online reviews to create a healthy online reputation. And don’t exclusively take note of the negative reviews; it is better to publicly respond to positive reviews and thank patients for taking time to share their experience than to justify only negative reviews with a response.

If the complaint is serious enough or defamatory, and you are unable to resolve the issue with the patient, talk to a lawyer to see if there are other options. It is best to keep all information confidential than to have a public lawsuit because of a lack of HIPAA compliance.

For more information on Reputation Management, contact your Internet Marketing Consultant at Page 1 Solutions. If you are a prospective client interested in Internet marketing for lawyers, dentists, plastic surgeons, and ophthalmologists, please contact our Sales Team for more information.

-By Laura Nagler, Internet Marketing Consultant