Online reviews have become a fact of life for many organizations, and hospitals are no exception. Positive reviews of your facilities and medical providers can improve your reputation, but negative reviews can leave damage that isn’t easily repaired.

Dealing with negative reviews has become more important than ever and approaching them the right way will prevent even further damage.

Never Divulge Private Information

One of the biggest potential pitfalls in responding to online reviews is putting your facility at risk of being charged with HIPAA violations. There are many examples of medical providers who’ve responded to negative reviews too aggressively and described specific procedures and encounters with patients – information that may be forbidden under protected health information (PHI). In fact, several providers have received warnings from the federal government for improper disclosure under HIPAA regulations.

The Frustration for Physicians

Confidentiality obligations can prohibit physicians from responding to negative online reviews, which is understandably frustrating for a physician who’s subject to criticism but unable to defend themselves.

The good news, however, is that most online reviews are positive and provide useful feedback about things such as office logistics, parking, billing practices, office manager, hours of operation, and more.

Responding to Negative Reviews

It’s natural to want to present your side of the story when confronted with a negative review. But it’s important to monitor the kind of information you’ll include in your review, and even more important to take the high road at all times. Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep it Simple. If it’s a negative review that’s public (on social media), your best tactic is to respond with short answers that outline your facility’s protocol for similar conditions or situations. Avoid specifics.
  • Respond Privately. A good approach is to reach out to patient directly – in private – rather than responding in a public forum (that is, if the reviewer isn’t ‘anonymous’). Give the person a chance to discuss the issue directly and at length while expressing your own sympathy and understanding. Being defensive won’t help the situation.
  • Apologize. If an apology is owed to the patient, then by all means apologize. Sometimes you and other staff members at your hospital make mistakes – after all, you’re only human. If the patient’s complaint is valid, a public apology can defuse the situation. You can even explain how the problem will be prevented in the future.
  • Let other patients come to your aid. Sometimes remaining silent is your best tactic, and can even allow for the very real possibility that a satisfied patient will speak up on your behalf. Moreover, their glowing review is sometimes the best defense and has the power to greatly limit the damage of a negative review.
  • Learn from the reviews. Sometimes negative reviews provide valuable feedback for physicians and hospitals. Don’t let your emotional reactions get in the way of evaluating the review objectively. 

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