Are doctors prohibited from responding to online patient reviews?
Physicians are prohibited from responding to online patient reviews.
Many websites provide information about clinicians and organizations from whom patients seek health care. Some of these sites provide user-submitted reviews of the practices and clinicians of patients or members of the public. Unfortunately, patient reviews are not always positive and can sometimes be negative, inflammatory or false. Negative or false reviews can harm, and sometimes seriously, affect a doctor, his practice, his reputation and his career. To avoid these potential consequences, physicians may feel compelled to respond to reviews to address concerns or rectify issues, but they fear breaking the law and breaching patient privacy if they do.
There are no federal laws or regulations prohibiting physicians or practices from responding to online patient reviews; however, unlike other companies who can respond to online reviews in any way they see fit, physicians are limited in what and how they can communicate with a patient reviewer in a public forum.
Acknowledging a patient’s relationship with the provider may risk violating patient privacy protected by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and applicable state laws. It is important to note that HIPAA does not explicitly prohibit physicians from responding to online reviews; physicians are free to respond and contribute to an online review forum, but they must keep the patient’s protected health information (PHI) confidential, even if the patient has previously disclosed personal information. Although a patient is free to share any information about their experience in an online forum, physicians are prohibited from disclosing patient-specific information.
Most, if not all, online rating sites have openly published community rating guidelines or standards. Physicians and practices have the ability to contact review sites directly to challenge false or inflammatory reviews, particularly if they believe the reviews violate the site’s Community Standards.
Physicians are encouraged to consider these suggestions when deciding whether and how to respond to online reviews.1
- Don’t disclose any patient information – don’t even acknowledge that the person is a patient in your practice. Even if a patient has disclosed their information in an online exam, remember that HIPAA law prevents a physician from disclosing patient information without the patient’s permission. A patient’s own disclosure is not permission for the physician to disclose anything.
- Consider taking the answer offline. Sometimes personal contact leads the patient to remove the negative review or add an online review that lets other patients know your practice is listening.
- Speak about general policies and standard protocols if you have chosen to respond online. For example, if a patient is upset that he was not given an antibiotic, a doctor might respond, not by mentioning anything about the particular patient, but rather by saying that office policy and medical practice standard are to determine if a patient has a viral infection. or bacterial and to prescribe antibiotics only in the presence of a bacterial infection.
- Remember that a bad review will not destroy your online reputation. Patients look at a doctor’s overall rating and when there are a lot of good reviews, a few bad ones won’t stand out as the norm.
- Do not respond immediately. Take a deep breath and step away.
- Don’t ignore the reviews. Instead, objectively review the review from the patient’s perspective and determine if there is anything you or your practice can do differently.
- Do not hesitate to consult the reviews online. Ask your patients to rate and review you online. In most cases, the reviews are positive. And remember that many positive reviews dilute many negative reviews.
Firms are required to provide HIPAA training to appropriate personnel and are encouraged to develop policies and procedures related to appropriate PSR disclosure, with particular attention to avoiding social media disclosures.
- Henry TA. How to react to bad reviews online. News from the American Medical Association. 2016. Available at: https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/patient-support-advocacy/how-respond-bad-online-reviews.
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Page last revised April 2022.