In the age of the internet, negative online reviews are a frustrating but inevitable part of life for many professionals, including doctors. As you likely know, it can be exceedingly difficult to ignore negative reviews, especially if they cast doubt on your reputation or a patient makes false claims. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t consider that a poor response to a negative review could put their license in jeopardy. Below, we’ll give you pointers for how best to respond to negative reviews and when it may be useful to seek legal help.
Know the Dangers of Responding
Before any doctor responds to a negative online review, they should consider the potential repercussions. Any doctor who responds inappropriately to an online review and discloses patient information of any kind could be endangering their license since disclosure is in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
A recent study conducted by ProPublica that appeared in The Washington Post evaluated over 1.7 million Yelp reviews completed by patients. Researchers found countless examples of doctors and other medical professionals who responded inappropriately to patients’ criticisms and were ultimately accused of violating patient privacy. While you may think you fully understand HIPAA, the internet presents new challenges, so it’s always best to consider the potential of your response to violate patient privacy.
Consider Whether You Need to Respond
Any doctor’s first step after encountering a negative online review should be to resist the urge to respond right away since an angry response is more likely to backfire. Instead, take a moment to collect yourself. Once you have calmed down, decide whether or not it is truly necessary to respond to the review. If your online reviews are strong overall, it may not be worth it for you to respond, since potential patients will look at the reviews holistically and see that yours are largely positive.
Consider Alternative Responses
Since online conversations can be easily misinterpreted, a good alternative tactic could be to meet with the patient and iron out the issue in person. Start by determining whether or not the patient’s criticism is warranted and whether you could have handled the situation differently. Then, call the patient and invite them to your office to discuss their issues. Often, this is what the patient needs to feel better about the situation. An in-person conversation could lead to the patient editing their review, removing it completely, or even writing a positive review due to your caring response.
If You Must: Consult an Attorney, and Always Respond Calmly, and Avoid Disclosing Information
If you decide that presenting your side of the case online is necessary, you should consult an attorney. You will ultimately want to be able to respond calmly, making sure to do so without disclosing patient information. This is tricky when responding to a particular patient’s review, as your response can be viewed as a disclosure that you actually saw the patient. Even mentioning in passing that you saw this patient in your office violates their privacy. While it is perfectly legal for a patient to disclose their health information online, it is not acceptable for a doctor to do so unless they have the patient’s express permission. If the issue raised is in regard to an office policy or standard medical practice, discuss this generally without mentioning the patient specifically.
Generally, any posting you make has to be generic, without reference to a specific review. Even mentioning in passing that you saw this patient in your office violates their privacy.
Continue to Encourage Reviews
The internet is an incredibly valuable source of information for potential patients, especially with so many doctors to choose from. Don’t let the negative review prevent you from encouraging your patients to review you online. If you do your job well, most reviews will likely be positive, overshadowing the rare criticisms.
If you experience trouble or accusations of a HIPAA violation from a patient after an unfortunate online encounter, it is in your best interest to seek help from a medical license defense attorney. Especially if you are accused of violating patient privacy, a lawyer can help defend you from the loss or suspension of your license.
If you need experienced legal help, contact Scott J Harris for a consultation today at 323-794-0701.
This blog is meant to be informational. It is not meant to be all-encompassing legal advice. If you are facing a situation involving your professional license, seek counsel from a licensed attorney.