The right and wrong way to respond to patient reviews

Published on July 30, 2020

Reviews

Review sites such as Yelp and Google Reviews are an important part of establishing your practice’s reputation. In today’s increasingly online world, reviews make a difference. 

You might think that responding to reviews on a site like Yelp would be a best practice for maintaining good patient relationships, and you’re right! Responding to reviews is important. However, due to privacy concerns, responding to reviews from patients requires careful consideration. If your responses aren’t handled correctly, they could leave you vulnerable to significant fines and other penalties for disclosing patient information. 

Fortunately, there’s a definite right and wrong way to respond to reviews, and we’ll tell you about them in this post. There’s also a simple trick that you can use to take advantage of the opportunity to communicate while remaining in compliance with HIPAA. We’ll tell you all about that too. Read on!

Never confirm the relationship

It might seem counter-intuitive. A patient has just written a rave review about your service, and you can’t even take credit. Why? Because the fact that they are a patient is considered protected health information (PHI). Even if a review discloses a practitioner/patient relationship, the practitioner can’t confirm the relationship. What can you do? A simple “thank you” is acceptable, but it must be worded just right. We’ll explain more about this later in the post.

Never disclose PHI, even if the review does

Along with not confirming a relationship, you also can’t confirm any of the details that are revealed in the review. For example, if a dental patient leaves a review saying they had a great experience with a teeth whitening procedure, it’s not OK to respond back saying that you’re glad she was happy with the procedure. And definitely don’t volunteer any information. 

In 2019, Elite Dental Associates ran into trouble when it revealed the patient’s name and health condition in a response to a review on Yelp. The patient reported the incident to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and Elite Dental was issued a $10,000 fine

It might be tempting to expand on a patient’s review so prospective patients have more information about your services. Don’t succumb to this temptation! 

Reviews must stay on the review site

The best reviews read like testimonials giving details about your services and why they made your patient so happy. Some of them may be so well written that it seems like a waste for them to only be viewable in one place. Why not in your brochures and website? This is a great idea but only if you have written consent from the patient. In 2012, a physical therapy office was fined $25,000 for posting a testimonial from a review without permission. That’s a fine that would be difficult for even a large practice to absorb. A corrective action plan is also usually required, which can lead to a significant amount of extra work for the offender.

How to respond to reviews - keep it vague

So what can you do when you receive a glowing review that’s a marketing opportunity or a critical review that requires a response so you don’t lose patients? You can effectively handle a review while staying in compliance by keeping these two things in mind: keep it vague and move the conversation to a secure form of communication.  

A public response must be vague and not acknowledge the relationship. 

Responses to good reviews

Not OK - We’re so glad you came in for a visit and had a great experience.

OK - We strive to provide exemplary care and always welcome feedback about our services.

Responses to bad reviews

Not OK - We’re sorry you feel you had a bad experience with our dental cleaning service. We strive to provide the best dental care to our patients and feedback like yours helps us provide even better care. 

OKWe strive to provide exemplary care and always welcome feedback about our services.

Note that the “OK” response to both good and bad reviews is the same. They’re both extremely vague and don’t acknowledge that the reviewer is a patient.

You can also respond to a reviewer privately through a site’s direct messaging service. But just because it’s a private message doesn’t mean you can discuss the situation in detail. Direct messaging through the review site is not secure. You need to be careful that you don’t include PHI, so keep it vague! You can leverage this opportunity to communicate by encouraging the reviewer to continue the conversation through a secure form of communication, such as an encrypted web form or email service.

Hushmail can help 

Here’s how you can acknowledge good reviews and turn around bad reviews by using Hushmail’s secure email and web forms.

How to respond to good reviews

Respond publicly with the vague language mentioned above. Then, thank your patient in a brief, private message through the review site’s direct message service that also provides them with a secure email address or link to a secure web form so they can sign up for special offers or updates.

Example of a private message - Thanks very much for your complimentary review. Feedback like yours helps others find the care they need. If you would like to receive special offers and updates about our services, feel free to sign up by clicking this link. 

How to respond to bad reviews

Respond publicly with the same vague language used for a good review. Then, in a private message, briefly acknowledge the feedback without going into detail and request that they contact your practice through secure email or a secure web form to discuss the issue.

Example of a private message - We appreciate your feedback. We’re sorry that your experience was not what you expected. Please call us or contact us through our secure web form so we can discuss the issue further. 

Reviews are an opportunity as long as you’re careful

When a patient takes the time to write about your services, that’s an immediate opening for you to cultivate the relationship. A heartfelt thank you and extra offers provided to a good reviewer deepens an already good relationship. A sincere effort to mitigate a bad experience can turn a bad review into a good one. 

Once you’ve successfully moved your patient to a secure means of communication, you’ll have the freedom you need to respond effectively. Don’t forget; patients can update, edit, or remove bad reviews. Now that you know how to remain in compliance, make sure you take the time to respond. It makes a difference!

Sign up for Hushmail for Healthcare

It might seem counter-intuitive. A patient has just written a rave review about your service, and you can’t even take credit. Why? Because the fact that they are a patient is considered protected health information (PHI). What can you do? A simple “thank you” is acceptable, but it must be worded just right. There’s a right and wrong way to respond to a review.

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