HIPAA Compliant Social Media Responses and Comments

In this post, President and CEO of The Practice Mechanic Rick Garafolo walks us through his three-rule process to staying compliant when responding to comments or reviews on social media and gives his best tip for managing social media safely under HIPAA.

Can responding to reviews or comments on social media violate HIPAA privacy laws?

This is a question your practice has likely asked while navigating the complicated relationship between social media and HIPAA — for good reason.

Online reviews have become an incredibly influential dental marketing tool. These days, 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, while 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Responding to these reviews and comments is important, but protecting patients’ information in the process is even more crucial.

Respond generically

Whether the review or comment is positive or negative, always be as generic as you can. For example, I might respond to a positive review by saying:

“Our goal is to ensure that all of our patients have the best experience every time they visit our office. We pride ourselves on our honesty, integrity, and superior clinical skills. Thank you so much for the kind words and recommendation.”

You never acknowledged whether or not they are a patient, nor did you say anything about the services they may have had done.

For a negative review, I would suggest saying something similar, like:

“Our goal is to ensure that all of our patients have the best experience every time they visit our office. We pride ourselves on our honesty, integrity, and superior clinical skills."

Due to HIPAA privacy laws, we are not able to address your concerns in a public forum, but please feel free to call our office at 555-555-1212 and our doctor will speak with you personally to address any concerns — whether before, during, or after any appointments.”

Reach out to the patient directly

Assuming they are a patient and did not leave anonymous comments or reviews, reach out directly to respond.

For positive reviews or comments, I love to send handwritten thank you cards.

For negative reviews, try to call the patient and always remain positive. You can say something like:

“Good morning, Mr. Jones. I wanted to reach out to you to make sure you’re happy with the service that you received in our office last week. Our goal is to make every patient is 100% satisfied 100% of the time. Please call me back at 555-555-1212 at your earliest convenience.”

Most patients will call back and are happy to tell you about their experience. At that time, you can address the problem and determine your best course of action. It may be a free redo, a follow-up visit, or even deciding that the patient isn’t a good fit for your office.

Whatever your decision, handle it quickly, definitively, and offline. Many people who are quick to leave negative reviews will edit or delete them once they feel that their opinion or feelings have been validated.

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Learn from the reviews or comments

Whether negative or positive, there is always something you can learn from comments and reviews on social media.

Identify areas where your team is succeeding as well as areas of improvement.

I know I would rather spend 10 minutes at the morning huddle doing some customer service training rather than going over scheduling details.

You can never please 100% of your patients, but you can certainly learn something from every single one of them.

Being on social media without violating HIPAA

Being active on social media is easy if you include a release form with your new patient paperwork.

If you take a photo of patients, verbally tell them:

“That is a great photo, I would love to use it on our Facebook page, is that OK with you?”

Most people will say yes. For younger or more active social media users, I suggest that dentists or hygienists say:

“Wow, your smile is beautiful, let’s take a selfie together on your phone.”

People love to take selfies. You can even suggest that patients post it Facebook when they check in to share on the practice’s page. Everyone loves to feel important, even if just for a moment.

Just make sure that release becomes a part of the patients’ permanent records. Moreover, make sure that your entire team knows and understands your social media policies for the office.

Many times the manager or dentist assumes that everyone can use common sense about what they should and should not do. In this case you want to be absolutely certain that everyone knows and understands the policies.

Post away, have fun, sing with your patients, smile with your patients, but sign that release with your patients first!

President and CEO of The Practice Mechanic, Richard Garafolo works as a practice management and OSHA/HIPAA compliance consultant for dentists. Rick develops site and state-specific plans and business systems for dental offices around the country.

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