Negative online reviews from patients aren’t pleasant, but they’re almost inevitable when you’re running a practice.
Your clientele is made up of many personalities – and you can’t please them all. But when you do receive a negative online review, you can choose to see it as an opportunity to show other potential patients that your clinic is attentive to how people feel.
But does that mean you should respond to every negative review you receive? No.
HIPAA compliance doesn’t necessarily prevent you from responding to a negative review, but it does pose some limitations.
The most important thing to do when you first receive a negative online review is to breathe. Never respond from a place of emotion – because that’s a surefire way to commit a HIPAA violation.
Keep reading to find how to respond to negative reviews in ways that remain HIPAA compliant, which ones deserve a response, and how to identify opportunities for reconciliation and come out on top.
Types of negative reviews
Not all negative patient reviews are created equal – and you don’t need to respond to all of them.
Ever hear the expression, “Some people just want to watch the world burn?” The same applies to some folks who leave negative online reviews.
Some people can’t be assuaged no matter what you say in response, and it’s important to identify these types of negative reviews so you’re spending your time wisely.
Aggressive negative patient review example (content warning: racism):
“HORRIBLE. I went to this dental clinic and none of the staff even spoke proper English. Why do they let these people into our country to serve the public?”
To respond or not to respond: No. ❌ The review reflects badly on the part of the reviewer, more so than your clinic.
Sensationalized negative patient review example:
“AVOID THIS DENTAL CLINIC AT ALL COSTS. They only want your money. I went there with perfect teeth and now they’re ruined. The dentist was from Columbia University which is the worst dental school in the country. My teeth will never be the same again. RUN FROM THIS TRAIN WRECK CLINIC AT ALL COSTS.”
To respond or not to respond: No. ❌ The patient refuses to be specific with their grievance, and instead attacks the credentials of the dentist. A response would not be productive.
Objective and factual
Objective and factual negative patient review example:
“I scheduled an appointment for my daughter, to check on a previous filling. When we arrived, we were told to wait. THIRTY MINUTES later, the receptionist told us to reschedule our appointment for the next day because the dentist was on lunch! When we were unable to reschedule, we were told to wait another HOUR for her to return. STAY AWAY, they will waste your time.”
To respond or not to respond: Yes. ✅ Without revealing any personal information about the patient, you can apologize for the inconvenience, provide more context, and offer to see the patient promptly next time.
How to respond to negative reviews with HIPAA compliance
Healthcare providers can’t disclose patient information without consent from the patient.
Non-compliant online review responses have led to legal action in the past, so it’s very important to understand the rules. You don’t want to pay millions of dollars in fines because you didn’t take the time to think through a response to a negative online review.
That’s why it’s important to breathe and walk away before you respond to a negative review. You may also want to consider assigning responses to a member of your team who’s not as emotionally invested.
We understand that you take pride in your clinic and want to serve patients as best you can – it’s only natural that a negative review would elicit a strong emotional response.
If you do choose to respond to a negative review, here’s what you can and can’t say to remain HIPAA compliant – and free of any legal trouble.
What you can say
✅ General apology
✅ It’s your policy to provide a high standard of care for all patients
✅ Offer to discuss the matter in more detail over the phone or through HIPAA compliant messaging
Example: Thank you for taking the time to review our clinic. We’re sorry you did not have a good experience, and we’d love to fix the issue. It’s our policy to provide the best care possible, and we regret any inconvenience we caused. Please feel free to contact our office, so we can discuss the matter in further detail.
What you can’t say
❌ Confirmation or acknowledgement that the patient was seen at your clinic
❌ Reiteration of treatment or diagnosis
❌ Statement of client’s name – even if they leave their name as part of the review
Example: Hello, Julia! When you came in to seek medical care for your recent cavity, we provided the standard of care that our clinic is known for. Please contact us directly to discuss your past appointment, and how we can improve your treatment plan.
How to combat negative reviews with positive reviews
The best defense is a good offense. If you’re afraid a few negative reviews are going to affect patient acquisition, you can become more proactive about generating positive online reviews.
Sometimes you need to go ahead and ask for that great online review. It’s not that happy patients don’t want to leave online reviews – it’s that they’re so happy, they don’t feel the need to comment on the service!
Some people are happy to leave an online review if they’re asked nicely and at the right time. Feel free to send your patients a text message after they leave your office, immediately after they’ve had a good experience.
A simple reminder about how much online reviews help your clinic thrive is often enough to get it done.