Can Patients Sign Forms Allowing You to Respond in Detail to Negative Reviews Down the Road?

Most industries have the benefit of being able to respond fully to negative online reviews. They can dive into the dirty details and set the record straight. Whether or not that makes good PR sense is a business decision. A restaurant can respond that a patron was rude with the staff, inebriated, and unable to control his alcohol. A hotel can respond that its guest was a slob and destroyed the room. The law has little to say about such matters.

But, a physician’s hands are tied by HIPAA and state privacy laws. Some doctors believe that since they do not accept insurance, HIPAA does not apply. But, many state laws rely on HIPAA as the guide for how to manage privacy. So, even if you do sidestep the technical requirements for HIPAA, you still are beholden to state law.

If a patient posts a negative review online and decides to disclose some or all the details of his treatment, a doctor is constrained in responding. He cannot respond online without the patient’s written authorization. And what patient would give such authorization after care has been rendered and they are unhappy?

Several doctors have asked about getting a patient’s authorization to respond publicly to a negative online review in advance of care being delivered. Wouldn’t that sidestep the problem of a patient giving authorization? Is this HIPAA safe?

I do not believe the strategy would be effective. Here’s why…

(a) If you ask for a patient’s authorization, it needs to be a standalone document and not 8 point text buried in the middle of a pile of other documents. Further, it must include mandatory HIPAA authorization language, including a statement that patient is free to withhold such authorization and it will not affect whether care is provided. This will invariably lead to questions. And how many patients will decide to go elsewhere.

(b) The patient may just post your consent language online and you will have a public relations issue.

(c) Finally, the patient is allowed, by HIPAA, to withdraw any authorization they provide to release of protected health information. So, it is possible for the patient to sign the consent, be treated, withdraw the authorization, then slam you online.

My take:

The solution to pollution is dilution. One angry voice among many happy voices is not nearly the problem most doctors think it is. Further, an occasional negative review makes the others appear more credible; more authentic. Finally, there are HIPAA compliant ways to respond to negative online reviews. Just ask us.

What do you think?

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By | 2017-07-21T14:42:01+00:00 July 19th, 2017|Compliance, Online reviews|3 Comments

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Helping patients find the best doctors online. Helping the best doctors be found online. At eMerit®, we focus on managing your Dental or Medical Identity toward a sustainable and growing business – where both doctors and patients thrive. And we minimize distractions away from patient care while meeting your business objectives by transforming everyday patient interactions into growth drivers. At eMerit, we take your Medical Identity® personally.

3 Comments

  1. Anon July 21, 2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    There is no legal document a patient signs today that would make exercising his 1st Ammendment Right illegal tomorrow.

  2. Louise B Andrew July 21, 2017 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    I tend to agree that the solution to pollution is dilution. And have heard of many a doc that dug self deeper by reacting in kind to online criticism (we don’t as a species receive criticism well, and perhaps don’t respond to it well either).
    Many businesses, including medical spas elicit positive reviews on various social media platforms, and some even offer discounts for a positive review.
    Not so sure this is wise or even ethical in a medical setting. Certainly not illegal though unless perhaps ongoing necessary treatment is impliedly dependent.

    Interested in the opinions of others!

  3. Mike Murphy, OD July 21, 2017 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    I agree to solution by dilution. As a matter of fact we are given the opportunity to block reviews that are less than positive and unless completely fake we let all stand. A constant onslaught of 5-star reviews begins to look fake after awhile. However, there is a 1-star review from an idiot in Kansas who has never been seen in our ILLINOIS practice which Google refused to remove. Therefore, since this person has NEVER been seen, I responded like this: “Considering that you have never been to my office and are just angry that you were removed from an unrelated public facebook page for profanity and abusive behavior, I consider it a compliment that you took the time out of your busy day to give me 1 star. Have a great day.”

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