HIPAA-Compliant Ways to Respond to Online Reviews

1996’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects a patient’s health information. This act covers a wide aspect of patient care and extends to responses to patient reviews online. 

Unfortunately, HIPAA fines and penalties against providers are quite steep. Therefore, healthcare providers need to write HIPAA-compliant responses to patient online reviews.

Writing HIPAA-compliant reviews can be tricky and difficult to navigate. They also tend to discourage many doctors from addressing online reviews. Yet, about 94% of consumers turn to review sites to find health care providers. Considering this large number, sidelining online reviews is not a viable option.

Why Online Reviews Are Essential

Today’s medical customers look online to discover and select services. They do this regardless of whether they have personal recommendations. Smart practitioners understand this concept and respond to online reviews wherever necessary.

When providers leave professional, HIPAA-compliant responses, it shows potential customers their patient-focused values. But, when they ignore reviews, searchers will see them as uninvolved in the patient experience. 

Provider online responses boost positive patient experiences or negative ones. Potential clients often imagine themselves in the reviewer’s position.

A general principle is to respond to every negative review and a portion of positive ones. You seem automated and insincere if you respond to every positive review. Logging a few negative reviews is not a bad thing. 

In fact, some research shows that “too perfect” reviews make readers suspicious. This is because they want to verify that the reviews are genuine and that the provider is human.

Keys for HIPAA Compliance in Online Responses

It’s critical to maintain a professional, sympathetic demeanor while communicating with patients. Although your responses are generally to one person, they are public for all to see. These are pivotal in maintaining HIPAA compliance.

  1. Never Include Any Patient Details

Providers have a moral and legal responsibility to protect patient privacy. This applies even if the patient has not protected their privacy.

According to HIPAA guidelines, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Avoid discussing treatment details about the reviewer’s visit to your office.
  • When possible, don’t refer to the reviewer as a patient or that they’ve been to your office. 

Avoiding personal information can prove to be quite the challenge. This is because reviewers often divulge their details and experiences. 

It is natural for a provider to want to respond to those details as an exchange between two people. But reviews remain a public conversation online. It will remain visible and accessible long after the original discussion has ended.

  1. Respond Timely, but Not Immediately

Timely response to online reviews portrays empathy and diligent customer service. Negative feedback, on the other hand, is harder to swallow. It’s human nature to become emotionally involved when we read anything about ourselves. Even one negative review can be gutting to a provider who spends days trying to help people.

Online review responses must remain professional and patient-focused no matter what. Unfortunately, when we react, we tend to ignore guidelines for being professional. You might need to calm down and detach, even if you think you don’t.

Wait at least 12 – 24 hours or overnight before acting on an alert unless it indicates a genuine emergency. This habit keeps emotions in check and protects any personal details from exposure.

  1. Always Start with Words of Appreciation

Reviewers and their feedback matter! An appreciative start is a reminder that a reviewer is a real person who took the time to give you feedback. Even negative reviews can improve your practice if you listen without being defensive.

HIPAA addresses how seeking healthcare requires patients to express their most private concerns. They’ll need to trust their providers to understand and honor this personal information. Professional and courteous online replies show potential clients that they can trust you.

  1. Focus on General Procedures and Policies

To maintain patient privacy, consider the standards of care, best practices. Also look at the goals to match them.

You can give attention without getting personal by focusing on your standard policies.  Stick to general phrases like; “We take your feedback seriously.” Or you can say; “We strive always to improve our patient experience.”

  1.  Take the Discussion Offline

Invite reviewers to contact you to discuss and resolve issues personally. Always include your customer service contact information in your responses. Personal conversations are always more effective than an online exchange. This is true, especially with negative reviews that need negotiation or amends.

You can reach out to resolve issues if you have the reviewer’s contact information in your system. However, if you do respond, be careful to acquire consent for email or text contact. These methods also raise privacy concerns.

  1. Invite the Reviewer to Update Their Review

A periodic negative review allows you to show off effective customer service. Upon reaching a successful resolution, ask if the patient will update their review. 

Even if they don’t, you can change your response to show you addressed the concern and worked to resolve it. That’s because a high rating is only as good as its consistency and effectiveness. Your regular replies will reveal whether you’re serious about your rating or not.

  1. Develop a Catalogue of HIPAA-Compliant Responses to Choose from With Confidence

When responding to a review, some professionals use a list of suggested responses. Other groups have these responses evaluated by legal advisors. Some practices use an automated review system that includes a library of responses.

Regardless of the method, an approved list offers professionalism and variety. It can be adopted if needed. Your staff can have confidence that their responses are effective and HIPAA compliant.

Conclusion

Physicians always bear the burden of knowing what is appropriate and what isn’t. Penalties exist for these physicians even if they are reasonably diligent. Therefore, HIPAA compliance should be a top priority in your online responses.

If potential clients see you respecting others’ privacy, they’ll assume the same will happen to them. But if they see you divulging sensitive information, their opinion will decline. Employing these 7 Keys should aid in writing HIPAA-compliant online reviews.

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