How a Negative Dental Practice Review Can Lead to a HIPAA Violation

March 13, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Your practice just received a patient review on the internet that you know is inaccurate or unfair. What do you do? How you respond can have major legal and professional consequences, if you take the wrong approach. Here are some tips on proper courses of action.

You’ve gotten a negative review, and you want to respond online — after all, your reputation as a dentist is at stake, and you fear losing business if you don’t stick up for yourself. It’s natural to want to share your side of the story, but be careful. Even if you’re careful, it’s still possible to violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act simply by responding to a social media post.

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Dentists often defend themselves against negative reviews on popular social media and crowd-sourced rating websites. But as a healthcare provider, you’re required to protect and keep confidential any personal health information related to any of your patients. Any interaction you have online could potentially expose your patient’s sensitive information, even if it initially doesn’t appear to do so.

So how do you address negative practice or personal reviews on such websites? There are several ways to handle this type of situation while meeting your HIPAA obligations.

CRITICIZE WITH CAUTION

Think about the way in which you address unhappy patients in your office. Are you immediately defensive or critical of them, or do you try to respond with understanding and empathy? That old expression, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” definitely applies to these types of patient interactions.

SEND A PRIVATE MESSAGE

It’s best to avoid a public back-and-forth between you and your patient. Instead, see if you can send your patient a private message, or, if possible, make a phone call to discuss their concerns. You might find that if you take the time to personally reach out and resolve the situation, your patient might remove or edit the negative review.

ASK FOR MORE REVIEWS

You can ask other patients to review your practice if they’ve had a good experience and are happy with your care. One of the best ways to counter a negative review is to fill your profile with positive reviews left by other people. A greater amount of positive comments will help outweigh anything negative left by a patient.

Looking for tips on obtaining more positive reviews? It helps to have a process in place. Here’s a primer on practice review systems.

REPORT THE REVIEW

You should report reviews if they are blatantly false, slanderous or profane. Most review sites are more likely to remove reviews that are offensive, or that were meant for other providers or practices … as long as you can show that the details of the review don’t apply to you. Once you flag the review and include your reasoning for flagging it, you’ll probably receive a reply letting you know it was removed.

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