Patient privacy. Professional ethics. The occasional horror story about a medical professional sharing patient information online.
It’s no wonder some doctors believe they can’t respond to online reviews, a belief that’s not only incorrect but bad for patients, doctors and the aesthetics industry as a whole. There’s a range of options, says Jeff Segal, CEO of Medical Justice and eMerit. If you pay attention to HIPAA and state privacy laws, there are many opportunities to respond.
According to Segal, those options fall into three basic “buckets”:
- When patients provide written permission to discuss their case
- When patients remain anonymous by using initials or non-identifying photos and your response maintains their anonymity
- When patients provide identifying information — in which case, responses should be limited to general information about your practice and commitment to patient care
Similarly, you probably already know that not responding is not the answer and that your responses should be prompt, professional and to the point. With those concepts forming the foundation for your review-response efforts, the following tips will forestall HIPAA conflicts, defuse difficult situations and help ensure your online reputation remains intact:
1. Recognize the rules of responding
While it’s never okay to identify a patient, use their self-identification to guide the content of your response. The more detail they provide — full name, facial photos, etc. — the less specific you should be in your response. The bottom line, says Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf.com, “don’t allude to whether the reviewer is a patient or not, but rather, reiterate your commitment to patient outcomes.”
2. Have a dedicated staff member handle responses
“Having a staff person be your voice lets you be perceived primarily as the person delivering medical care as opposed to the individual in charge of managing and administering the practice,” says Segal. “It taps into the proper roles and skill sets of different people.”
3. Encourage the discussion to move offline
It should go without saying but bears repeating: your response should include a way and a suggestion to contact your office directly. A simple phrase, such as, “We appreciate your feedback on our practice; if you’d like to discuss it further, please call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX” will help remove the discussion from the public square and reduce the chances of violating confidentiality rules.
4. Don’t get drawn into a debate
Responding to a review doesn’t mean engaging in a lengthy back and forth, which, more often than not, just adds fuel to the fire. Instead make your point — reiterating confidentiality constraints and an offer discuss further elsewhere, as appropriate — and move on.
If you engage continuously, you may come off as confrontational, in which case you’ve lost the benefit of a response in the first place, says Segal. You’ve turned a potential positive into a negative.