A key part of any marketing plan is making sure you stay up to date on the reviews and comments that are being left for your practice online but don't forget to consider HIPAA when discussing these reviews and using them to highlight the work your team does.
Reviews and testimonials are core elements of a medical practice’s marketing, whether good or bad, they shape your professional reputation like nothing else can. However, this can be a point of frustration for doctors because you have no control over what others say. Furthermore, when you try to promote positive reviews and respond to the negative ones, you are faced with HIPAA’s privacy rule.
Despite common beliefs, HIPAA does not entirely forbid answering reviews, sharing testimonials, or discussing case studies. However, it does impose some very strict, and specific, restrictions. Here, we explain what you can and can’t say, as well as how to create a simple, HIPAA safe review-response strategy. HIPAA’s privacy rule protects any and all "individually identifiable health information.” You will not violate the rule unless your statement meets both criteria, individually identifiable and health information.
For example, a review response is individually identifiable, but it is allowed if you omit health information. On the other hand, if you are giving a lecture and mention the outcome of a specific case it might include health information, but it is allowable if it is de-identified. Below we examine both aspects of this rule in greater detail.
Essentially, anything relating to a person’s mental or physical condition or care is considered health information. According to the HIPAA privacy rule summary, this includes:
According to the HHS (United States Health and Human Services), HIPAA’s privacy rule does not protect de-identified information. There are two ways to meet the standard of de-identifying. The first is an expert determination by a qualified individual. The second is to remove all identifiers, which are outlined in HIPAA regulations.
There are nearly two dozen items on the list of identifiers. They include:
Often, doctors react to HIPAA’s privacy rules in one of two ways. Some find the complexity intimidating, and they decide that any review response or similar interaction is too risky. Others believe they have nothing to worry about if their internal policies and ethical standards will cover anything HIPAA might forbid. In most cases, neither is quite accurate.
You can respond to reviews, including testimonials on your website, and utilize patient data safely without violating HIPAA. However, it is important that you clearly understand the requirements, because some details of the rule are unexpected.
The most common points of confusion include:
You also need to be mindful of HIPAA even when answering positive reviews. Doctors tend to tread lightly when dealing with a disgruntled patient. It is easy to respond to good reviews more casually, but a simple statement like “it was great to see you,” is a violation.Patient reviews can be the best — or worst – advertisement your medical practice can get. Considering the long list of things that you aren’t allowed to mention you might be wondering what you can say.
Here are a few examples of noncompliant review responses, and complaint alternatives:
The simplest and safest solution is to avoid reviews entirely. Just don’t encourage them, don’t respond to them, and don’t put them on your website. That is exactly the strategy some doctors take. Unfortunately, that is also a potentially deadly marketing mistake.
In truth, patient reviews can be the best — or worst – advertisement a medical practice can get.
HIPAA is nothing to fear, but it is something to take very seriously. With a good strategy you can answer every review quickly, easily, and without wondering if you crossed a HIPAA line.
For more practice management insight, read on here!
About the Author:
Naren Arulrajah is President and CEO of Ekwa Marketing, a complete internet marketing company that focuses on SEO, social media, marketing education and the online reputations of doctors. With a team of 180+ full-time marketers, www.ekwa.com helps doctors who know where they want to go, get there by dominating their market and growing their business significantly year after year. If you have questions about marketing your practice online, call 855-598-3320 to speak one-on-one with Naren.