The internet has changed the way patients seek out new healthcare providers, and a recent survey shows that 77% of people use online reviews as the start of their search for a new health practitioner. More so, an even greater 88% of people would put their faith in the reviews of people they don’t know, just as much as they would people they do.
As important as getting reviews can be, formulating replies to positive and (more importantly) negative reviews are just as essential. But, healthcare practitioners may be wary of doing so due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Responding to people as a practitioner is not quite the same as responding as a retail store manager, and careful steps must be taken to ensure patient privacy. By replying, you’re showing patients that you truly hear what they have to say – positive or negative.
In this article, we discuss why it’s vital to respond to Google reviews, how to respond to them and the best ways to manage Google reviews without violating HIPAA.
Where Can You Find Patients’ Reviews & Feedback?
Often, patients leave reviews on sites such as Google My Business and Yelp. They may also leave reviews on your site if you have your own practitioner directory.
Some review sites and directories connected to you and your practice can keep you updated through notifications when a new review comes in. What’s important to consider, however, is that patients are more likely to turn to Google to see reviews on your practice.
According to a recent study, Google is one of the top trusted sites people refer to when looking for and leaving reviews.
If you are yet to set up a Google My Business listing, consider doing so sooner rather than later. Learn how to list your practice in the “How to Create a Google My Business Listing for Your Practice” article. Potential patients are looking for your practice – make it easy for them to find you!
Why Is Google My Business Important Anyway?
Considering how digitally connected we are in this era, it’s imperative that your practice has an online reputation.
When we think about how often we use Google to help us locate local businesses and services, it makes sense that you’d want your practice to appear in those results as well. Not only does your clinic or practice come up when a potential patient searches for a ‘psychologist near them’, for example, but they would also be able to see your hours, address, contact details and reviews.
Having all this information available at the press of a button can make or break a potential patient’s decision.
Get all the information on Google My Business and extra tips in the “Google My Business Tips” article.
Why Should You Reply to Positive and Negative Reviews?
More often than not, patients expect to receive a response when a review is left. If your practice receives a positive review, responding is an opportunity to acknowledge and thank them for taking the time to leave a review that will boost your business. In turn, others are more likely to leave positive reviews as well.
If you receive a negative review, responding can give you the chance to mend what’s been broken. In doing so, you can continue carefully managing your ratings while ensuring that a patient’s concerns aren’t going unheard.
Not only do you want patients to feel seen and heard, but taking the time to respond to a negative review can ultimately work to your advantage. According to the review site Software Advice, 36% of patients will overlook a bad review if the review has been responded to carefully and thoughtfully.
Where Does the Hesitation to Respond to Google Reviews Come From?
Healthcare practitioners may hesitate to respond to online reviews due to the fear of violating HIPAA laws and the blurred lines they cause regarding online engagement.
In healthcare practice, confidentiality and privacy when it comes to patients are an absolute must, so the fear of breaching those rules is entirely valid.
While patients may freely disclose information about their illness or treatment in a review, practitioners must be conscientious not to do so, as this could result in fines or jail time in the most serious cases. This means that when responding to a review, care must be taken not to identify the patient, nor even confirm that the reviewer is/was a patient. (Yes, this applies even if the person has identified themselves, and disclosed their status as a patient.)
There are, however, reliable ways to manage your online responses without the fear of disrupting practitioner-patient confidentiality and HIPAA laws.
When responding to a review, care must be taken not to identify the patient, nor even confirm that the reviewer is/was a patient.
Yes, this applies even if the person has identified themselves, and disclosed their status as a patient.
Managing Your Responses to Google Reviews
Responding to Google reviews doesn’t have to cause you to break out in a cold sweat. Here are some simple guidelines to manage your positive or negative reviews:
1. When You Can, Respond Publicly
When you respond publicly, other patients will see that response. Therefore, ensure your answer to the review can be seen so that potential and current patients know that their concerns and comments aren’t going unnoticed.
2. Respond Swiftly
A quicker response shows the patient the idea that you value their feedback. Try to have the response posted within a day.
3. Be Calm & Considered
Remaining calm and thoughtful in your words is especially important when it comes to negative reviews. It’s natural to want to perhaps argue against a review, especially when it may seem unfounded. But as a health practitioner, it’s in your best interest to remain calm and clear-headed.
Take a moment before responding. Most importantly, in the moments where you are feeling apologetic, don’t directly apologise. Following patient privacy and confidentiality, keep your response as vague as possible. Don’t confirm a patient’s trip to your practice or any treatments they have had.
4. Get Straight to the Point
Keep your responses as brief as possible, especially in response to negative reviews. Rambling on in your response can make you appear defensive, which could quickly ruin your reputation.
Examples of Replies to Positive Reviews and Replies to Negative Reviews
We’ve put together some potential reviews you might receive online and how you can handle your responses to them to guide you through managing Google reviews.
Scenario 1 – Responding to a Positive Google Review
Replies to positive reviews are generally much easier.
A patient might say,
“A lovely and warm experience from start to finish. Appreciate Dr.’s bedside manner and clear explanations of treatment options. Great staff too! Highly recommended.”
An easy, simple response to this could be,
“Thank you for the wonderful feedback! Our staff is dedicated to doing our best, and everyone in the practice is proud of the work that we do.”
Scenario 2 – Negative Google Review
While replies to negative reviews can undoubtedly be trickier, there are some catchall phrases you can use.
A patient might say,
“A total waste of time and money. The staff were unhelpful, and I only got in at 11:00 when my appointment was scheduled for 10:30!”
A straightforward response to this could be,
“We appreciate your feedback. We aim to make each patient’s visit as smooth and comfortable as possible, including seeing patients within 15 minutes of their appointment time. Please contact us at (insert number), so we can further investigate this issue.”
With positive reviews, just a mention of thanks is enough. With negative reviews, keep your responses vague and without direct fault, and move the conversation away from the online space as quickly as possible.
While it may seem quite daunting if you haven’t responded to reviews before, managing and responding to Google reviews is not only crucial but also easy once you get the hang of it. Always take a calm, measured approach, avoid addressing specific concerns, and double-check that your response is HIPAA compliant before you hit enter.
Remember that reviews are a big part of managing your practice’s reputation online as you can shape how people perceive your practice which can lead to more patients as your reputation grows.
Important note from our Legal Eagles: We know you know this, but we need to say it anyway. The information in this article is general in nature and is not legal advice. The laws, regulations and professional guidelines relating to the use of reviews and testimonials can vary across jurisdictions, and health professions. If you’re unsure of the rules that apply to you, your professional association is often a good place to start.