Healthcare News & Insights

Negative online reviews: Best ways to respond

Online reviews and ratings for patients are a fact of life for hospitals today. While positive reviews of facilities and providers can boost your reputation, negative ones can leave lasting damage. And even bigger issues can arise if providers take the wrong approach to responding to bad reviews. 

An article from ProPublicadoctor on smartphone (written in partnership with the Washington Post) outlines some of the biggest pitfalls with responding to online reviews – mainly, putting facilities at risk of being charged with HIPAA violations.

The article gives several examples of patients who posted unfavorable reviews of various medical providers online to Yelp and other websites. Upset by their patients’ claims, providers fought back and responded.

However, some listed specific details about patient encounters, discussing procedures they performed and chastising patients and their families for being uncooperative. In some cases, this information would be considered protected health information (PHI), so its disclosure would be forbidden.

Per the article, several providers received warnings from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for improper disclosure under HIPAA.

The OCR even fined one hospital for defending itself after a patient went to the media about her suspicions that she was misdiagnosed.  The hospital disclosed her full medical record to an area newspaper without her permission, and it ended up having to pay $250,000 in fines.

Responding appropriately

It’s natural for a hospital and its providers to want to present their side of the issue after a negative review.

But it’s important to be careful about mentioning any information that could potentially identify a patient – and to take the high road at all times.

Here are some more suggestions for how hospitals should handle negative reviews, straight from Forbes:

  • Keep responses simple. If replying to the review in public, give a short and sweet response that outlines your facility’s general protocol for similar situations or conditions. Avoid specifics at all costs.
  • Apologize if it’s warranted. Sometimes, providers and staff at hospitals make mistakes, whether they’re related to diagnoses or customer service at the front desk. If there’s evidence the patient’s complaint is valid, a sincere public apology may be the best bet. Own up to the error, and state how the problem will be prevented in the future.
  • Respond privately. Instead of hitting the reply button on Yelp, it may be a better approach to reach out to the patient directly, if the person can be identified from the review. A private reply should demonstrate sympathy and understanding toward the patient without being defensive. Giving the person a chance to discuss the issue directly could help soothe upset feelings.
  • Let other patients speak for you. Staying silent might be the best way to go, especially if the review sets up a “he said, she said” situation. Often, satisfied patients will speak up on a doctor’s or hospital’s behalf to disagree with negative reviews. And their glowing reviews may be more powerful than any defense. It may also be a good idea to encourage patients to write their own positive testimonials after a hospital stay so negative ones won’t get as much attention.

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