First impressions are made within seconds of an encounter. What if this encounter occurs online? Nowadays, people will search your practice on the internet before any other interaction. Due to this it is increasingly crucial for practices to have an online reputation that reflects the service they provide. How your practice is portrayed online can determine whether a new patient walks through your front door or not.
Michele Krohn, the Founder and President of Full Circle PR (FCPR), a national medical practice marketing and public relations agency based in Tampa, Florida, says, “Online reputation is becoming increasingly important for physicians who want to bring in new patients. The online review process is revolutionizing how patients choose their doctors.”
The Internet provides many opportunities for patients to share their experience with the public. One patient with a less-than-satisfactory experience could leave a scathing online review that brings down your rating. On the other hand, a very happy patient could leave a great review that raises your rating for years to come. Regardless of why patients are reviewing your practice, usually they have a compelling reason to do so. Whether the review is positive or negative, patients are publishing the statement so their voice can be heard.
Responding to reviews in a timely manner shows patients and potential clients that you care. In the healthcare field this is easier said than done because replies must be carefully tailored to remain compliant with HIPAA laws.
HIPAA prohibits healthcare providers from sharing any private health information regarding their patients. “Protected health information” includes information that relates 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 identifies the individual, or with respect to which there is a reasonable basis to believe the information can be used to identify the individual.” (45 CFR 160.103).
With this said, although a patient might disclose that they were at your office on a certain date, the practice may not say anything that would insinuate that the reviewer is a patient. This can be a particularly difficult caveat to avoid when a patient is publicly complaining about a specific circumstance.
Although HIPAA laws make replying to reviews more complex, it isn’t impossible. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help out your online rating while remaining HIPAA-compliant:
Focus on increasing positive reviews. An increase in positive reviews can outweigh negative reviews.
Respond in a way that is generic and focuses on the practice’s general care protocol. This will help you avoid any information that can be linked back to the patient.
Respond to reviews in a professional tone with a focus on excellent patient care. Although you can’t say anything to identify the patient, you can still make sure they know that your patients are the top priority.
Discount negative reviews. Ignoring a bad review or stating that the patient isn’t right can hurt the practice’s credibility.
Leave the review unanswered. Patients like to know their feedback is heard. Even if you can’t directly address their problem publicly, offer to have them reach out to you for a solution.
Remember, your Internet presence is often the first exposure patients will have to your practice. Taking the time to refine your online reviews and build a positive online reputation can be the key to growing your network of patients.