News to Ponder: You could violate HIPAA by replying to An Online Review


You’re probably familiar with Yelp (you can find us on there, both in Anchorage and Bend). It’s the leading crowd-sourced rating site for restaurants, hotels and just about anything else. It’s also host to healthcare reviews, and many physicians and clinics are on the site. Yelp gives you the option to reply to reviews, both positive and negative. What you need to be aware of, though, is that it could be a HIPAA violation if you reply to a review.

No matter what you do, you want to please everybody, but sometimes you can’t and people will complain. The truly disgruntled will complain online. A patient will complain about repeated lengthy wait time, or they might criticize unnecessary tests, etc… . Generally speaking, most business owners want to reply to those reviews, but as a HIPAA-regulated business or clinic, that interaction could potentially expose personal medical information, resulting in a HIPAA violation.

For example, a patient with a painful spinal condition complains about the long wait time for a neurosurgeon, giving the doctor a one-star rating or poor review. Even if the patient was the one to disclose the diagnoses, the surgeon is in violation if they respond, say advising the patient to get an MRI before scheduling the appointment.

So what should you do if somebody post a negative online review of you or your practice? Take some advice from Medical Economics:

Stake your claim
For review sites like Yelp, doctors should start by searching the site to find out if anyone has reviewed them on an unclaimed page. They can claim it as their profile page and take control of it, or create a new page.

Use caution with criticism
Physicians should think about interacting with an unhappy reviewer on Yelp in the same way they would speak to an unhappy patient in the office. Physicians need to be especially careful when defending themselves against a negative review, and even avoid identifying the reviewer as a patient.

Keep replies short and simple
The physician should thank the reviewer for taking the time to share his concern and invite him or her to have a phone conversation to discuss the matter.

Periodically monitor reviews and ratings
Make sure your practice has a clear policy regarding responses to patient complaints as part of its HIPAA policies and procedures for employees. Have front office staff notify the physician of a negative review so that he or she can respond to the patient directly.

Talk it out
As a best practice during a follow-up phone call, physicians should listen to the complaint and let the patient know how they plan to resolve it, or discuss reasons for prescribing a treatment. Patients are more likely to update negative reviews if they know they’ve been heard.


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