How to Respond to Patient Reviews While Remaining HIPAA-Compliant

Healthcare providers are affected by online patient reviews now more than ever before. Since 94% of patients use online reviews to evaluate physicians, reviews that go unanswered can detract from the quality of care you strive to provide. Part of your long-term success depends on your ability to respond to patient reviews, but there are laws that must be followed correctly to do so.
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What is HIPAA-Compliance & Why Do I Need to Follow It?
Here’s how you can respond to patient reviews while remaining HIPAA-compliant:
The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed by the US Congress in 1996. Some of the main features of this act are that it provides the ability to transfer or continue health insurance coverage if an American worker was to lose or change their job, it reduces health care fraud and abuse, and it requires protection and confidential handling of personal health information (PHI). Examples of PHI include name, phone number, email, birth date, appointment details, and tests results or diagnoses.
Complying with HIPAA laws puts technical, physical, and administrative safeguards in place to protect patients and healthcare providers. Failure to comply with HIPAA could result in serious financial or criminal penalties, loss of patients or business partners, and poorly affect your reputation.
Now that we understand the foundation of HIPAA, we can examine how to respond to patient reviews while remaining HIPAA-compliant.
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Protect Patient Privacy
As mentioned earlier, it’s vital to protect a patient’s PHI. Even if patients provide their own PHI willingly in an online review, a healthcare provider’s response should not acknowledge it. General phrasing like “We take your feedback seriously,” or “We focus on making patient experiences helpful and informative” responds to the review but doesn’t engage PHI. You can even go as far as making sure that your team doesn’t acknowledge whether the reviewer was a patient.
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Example Review: My appointment last Thursday with Dr. Doctor helped me with my joint pain.
Example Response: Thank you for your kind words, they are very appreciated. We’re focused on making patient experiences helpful and informative.
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Listen and Empathize
Patients want to know that you take their grievances seriously. When responding to a negative review, provide your contact details and invite the reviewer to take the conversation offline. When you’re able to discuss a situation privately, you can help a patient to feel heard and understood.
If a conversation is taken offline, make sure to actively listen and empathize with the patient. Consider this an opportunity to learn and make your practice better. Many states require that a healthcare provider have written consent in order to contact a patient electronically. It’s best to use the phone to communicate with a patient to avoid complications.
Example Review: I was upset with my last appointment and felt dismissed by the doctor Example Response: Thank you for letting us know. We value your feedback and want to assure you that this treatment is not typical of the care we want to provide to our patients. We would love to have the opportunity to further discuss this occurrence with you,  please give us a call at 123-456-7890.
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Don’t Delete a Review
Leave every review unless it contains profanity or slander. Showing both good and bad reviews makes your positive reviews more credible because 68% of customers are reported to trust reviews more when they see both good and bad reviews. If reviews are only positive, people might become suspicious that they’re fake. Customers spend 5 times longer on a site when they interact with a bad review and they convert 85% more often.
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Acknowledge Every Negative Review
While you don’t necessarily need to answer all of your reviews, it’s essential that you respond to at least 20% of positive reviews and every single negative review. Acknowledging a negative review can help to resolve conflict or can improve communications and feedback with patients. This will exemplify your commitment to providing exceptional patient care even after a patient has walked out your doors. You should maintain a professional and sympathetic tone when responding to these reviews and don’t place blame on the patient as this could drive readers away. Focus on the positive and consider even updating the patient as to how their feedback has helped your team to make changes to improve patient care.
Example Review: I had to fill out too many forms at the health center before my appointment and made it much longer than it needed to be.
Example Response: Thank you for your feedback, it’s very appreciated! The forms help to maintain our standard of patient care but we’re working to keep patient convenience a top priority. We’ve recently implemented an online system to fill out necessary forms prior to your appointment to reduce waiting times.
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Additional Tips
  • Regardless of the review, thank them for their feedback and let them know that it’s valued—all feedback can be used to help refine operational processes or further train your team.
  • Create templated responses so your team can respond to reviews more efficiently and professionally. Draft 15-20 responses to common scenarios and upload them into your Reputation Management Software, that makes it easy to manage and respond to reviews with the click of a button.
  • Have a team member proofread responses to ensure compliance and proper tone.
  • Don’t edit a review that a patient has included PHI in, just don’t acknowledge or repeat it in your response.
  • Respond to reviews within 2-3 business days.
Responding to reviews is very important to maintain your business’ reputation and spending as little as 10 minutes a week on your online presence and publicly addressing patient reviews can reduce the impact of negative reviews by up to 70%!
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It’s evident online reviews have become a trusted tool for patients to review past experiences and make decisions on where to seek healthcare. At Pulse ISM, we’re here to provide you with the software that makes responding to reviews easy. For more information or to set up a consultation, give our expert staff a call at (913) 662-1405
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