It’s time for Physicians to accept online reviews, and work on building their reputation. Gone are the days where patients are disrespected and there’s no one to listen to their vows. Social media has become a prevalent part of society and neglecting it will cause physicians great harm. Not only do Physicians have to watch out for attacks from politicians, insurance companies, news media, but also the world wide web.
Those that do start to build their online reputation must be careful of responding to negative reviews. Burned by such reviews, many health care providers have forgotten their patients’ privacy and have shared intimate details online to try and rebut their criticism, further harming their reputation and putting their licenses at risk. Whether the reviews are true or not, physicians have to be careful of how they respond. They are only to speak generally about the way they treat patients but must not divulge any patient information. Doing so would be considered a HIPPA violation.
So what should you do and how should you respond? First, understand what HIPAA is:
“Protected health information” includes information that “[r]elates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual [or] the provision of health care to an individual, and … that [i]dentifies the individual, or [w]ith respect to which there is a reasonable basis to believe the information can be used to identify the individual.” (45 CFR 160.103).
Thus, posting any information that identifies the individual as a patient likely violates HIPAA even if specific medical information is not disclosed; a patient does not waive their HIPAA rights by posting his or her own information, and there is no HIPAA exception that allows a healthcare provider to disclose information in response to a negative review.
Next, what can you do?
Ignore it: understand that negative reviews have few relevant readers, and little impact. Responding to such reviews may simply pour fuel on the fire and prompt further posts from the patient.
Grow your positive reviews. Positive reviews tend to offset and push away the negative ones. The denominator is key: 50 positive reviews and 5 negative reviews won’t affect your reputation or practice.
If you are going to respond, do so generically without acknowledging that the individual was a patient or disclosing any information that may be linked to the patient. One great response is by stating that you provide excellent, evidenced-based care. Describe your general policies or direct readers to positive reviews without referencing an individual case. You may also explain that HIPAA prevents you from disclosing information in response, but invite the complainant to contact you offline. No matter the case, be polite, professional, sensitive to your patient’s position, and careful that your response does not cross the HIPAA line. Think about it. When you are reading reviews on a restaurant you want to take your family to, does the response to a negative review by the owner influence how they treat their customers? Your readers are likely to respect and sympathize with you.
Or you can simply contact the patient to resolve the problem. Those that post online reviews many times are frustrated and want to be heard. You may be able to resolve the issue and remove the review. If you are unable to resolve the differences, ask the patient to give you a HIPAA-compliant authorization that would allow you to respond out of a sense of fairness.
You can even contact the website that hosts the reviews and ask them to remove the negative review. Know that many will remove false or defamatory reviews. But note these may not be removed unless they violate the website’s policies or community standards.
Consider warning the patient against defamation. Patients may be held liable for publishing libelous statements about you and your practice. Consider obtaining an appropriate cease and desist letter, which may get the patient’s attention and prompt the patient to remove the post, especially if its falsely accusing.
Lastly, learn from your negative reviews. Identify your weaknesses and adjust your conduct for future patients. Learn and move on. Don’t hold a grudge or stress.
Know and understand that we live in a world where you