Noelle Leahy

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Hi, We have always responded to Google reviews, especially to the negative ones. Is there a type of reply which will not break patient confidentiality?
 

Phil Rozek

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@Noelle Leahy, only a mushy and generic response is HIPAA-compliant (if it's a US dental practice).

It can't dispute or otherwise mention specifics of a patient's case, as in "Funny you said we 'ruined your whole mouth', because we installed only one implant." That is the big no-no, and an obvious one. In response to a negative review, pretty much all you can do is apologize (if you want to) and prompt the reviewer to get in touch directly.

I've seen doctors go both ways on acknowledging whether the patient was a patient in the first place. When they want to avoid that, essentially all they say is "Thanks for your feedback."
 
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KristiSimone

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Hi, @Noelle Leahy.
We manage marketing for approximately 130 dental practices across the US, including online reviews and reputation management. Maintaining HIPAA compliance is the absolute priority when we respond to reviews, but we do respond to positive and negative reviews with some specific details. These are some of the guidelines we follow when responding:
  • Respond to all reviews, even the reviews with stars-only. Review responses are essentially a free, open platform to communicate your message, brand voice, and services.
For positive reviews:
  • Thank the reviewer, and try to tie in a keyword that sets your practice apart. For example, "Thank you so much for your kind words, Jaimee! We are so glad you felt comfortable at our office. We work hard each day to partner with our patients on their dental health treatment..."
  • We think this is important as Google continues to test reviews keywords in Google map search results.
For negative reviews:
  • We respond about taking all reviews seriously. Then, we say that we are unable to comment about their feedback specifically due to HIPAA.
  • We let the patient know we read the review so that they feel "heard," as that is important to every person who believes they had a negative experience.
  • But, when we can, try to explain our office protocols, philosophies and treatment procedures. We explain this in a way that shows the dentist and practice truly "care" about their patients. It is a great way to positively communicate and turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.
  • For example: If a patient leaves a review that the practice charged her for her last missed appointment and she is upset about it, we ask the practice about the situation. If we learn the patient has missed three appointments and they have a policy of charging for a missed appointment, the review might be something like this:
"Jaimee, we want to assure you that we read our patient reviews and take all feedback very seriously. Due to HIPAA guidelines, we are unable to comment on your feedback specifically. However, we would like to communicate our practice appointment protocol, as we discuss this with all of our patients when they visit our office. We truly appreciate the time our patients take out of their busy days to schedule an appointment at XX Dental. Because we have lots of patients who would like to come in sooner than we might be able to accommodate them, every appointment on our schedule is an important one - for our team and our patients. We ask all patients to cancel their appointments at least 24 hours in advance so that we may have time to fill that time with another patient who needs to be seen. As stated on our website and in our patient forms, if, after two missed appointments or two cancellations within a 24-hour window of the appointments, we may assess a fee of $35 to hold the next scheduled appointment. This fee will be applied to the patient's appointment at the time of service. We understand that emergencies happen, and sometimes missing an appointment simply can not be avoided. That is why we allow for one or two missed appointments before charging. Jaimee, if you would like to talk with us about your specific situation, please don't hesitate to call our office at XX."​

This is long, but it communicates everything we want it to do without violating HIPAA. Our experience is that the way companies respond to negative reviews can actually have a more positive impact than a positive review. HIPAA compliance is the key when responding for medical/dental practices, while "humanizing" the dentist, team, and experience is also important. And remember, when in doubt, don't say/write it!
 
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Noelle Leahy

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Thanks so much Phil and Kristi for your detailed responses. Initially my concern was GDPR (which doesn't impact US dental clinics) but I think patient confidentiality is more important so your replies are very relevant for me.
 

Cherie Dickey

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Wow...really great responses! My understanding of GDPR specifically is that it has more to do with data collection and how it's used by businesses. However, privacy is always a concern. HIPPA in the US is very strict, so going by those guidelines is always a good idea no matter the country in my opinion.
 

Tony Wang

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I recall reading some HIPAA "expert" saying you shouldn't even acknowledge that the reviewer was a patient. I thought that was excessive, but I guess if you're a big practice, maybe with many offices, you might want to be super cautious. But by that guideline, I'd bet there are TONS of practices that are non-compliant.
 

brettmandoes

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Digital Strategist in healthcare here. I've been told our lawyers err on the conservative side and instruct us not to acknowledge whether someone was a patient or not. It makes responding to reviews and social media tricky at best, I'll advised and impossible at worst.
 

Yourname

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Digital Strategist in healthcare here. I've been told our lawyers err on the conservative side and instruct us not to acknowledge whether someone was a patient or not. It makes responding to reviews and social media tricky at best, I'll advised and impossible at worst.

That sucks. People have a free card to say whatever they want, competitors will also have a free run and all the business can do is "Thanks for your feedback!"?
 

brettmandoes

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That sucks. People have a free card to say whatever they want, competitors will also have a free run and all the business can do is "Thanks for your feedback!"?

Not every organization interprets the law this conservatively, but ours does. I personally think it's too strict, but you won't catch me arguing with lawyers, even if it violates common sense.
 
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Sorry if this is a little late to the game. My previous employer was the largest Dental marketing and web design company that is approved by the ADA until I started my own business. When clients would constantly ask questions about how to respond to reviews on any platform, I would always recommend responding no matter if its good or bad reviews.

The fine line in responding to a review is making sure you are HIPAA compliant.

My recommendation is to be vague as an example:
"Thank you for taking the time to leave a review. We value our patients and take confidentiality seriously. Due to HIPAA, we suggest you contact us directly at ..."

This will encourage unhappy reviewers to contact you directly while showing viewers that you care and attempting to resolve the issue. This will also remove any back and forth from the internet completely.

Of course, I am always available to help if you have a special scenario.
 
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