Responding to online reviews without violating HIPAA

Reviews are a vital part of your online reputation

There’s no doubt that, in today’s world, online reviews are a game-changer when it comes to whether or not people will trust you with their business. A best practice for when it comes to managing your online reputation is to always respond to the reviews you receive, both positive, and negative, but what happens when you are in the healthcare industry and HIPAA is a real concern of yours?

What is HIPAA and what does it protect?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It is a US law designed to provide privacy standards to protect patients’ medical records and other health information provided to health plans, doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers.

HIPAA is important for patients because it keeps their sensitive and personal information safe. It prohibits healthcare providers from disclosing any of a patient’s protected information without their express authorization, which means that posting any information that identifies or confirms someone as a patient is likely a violation of their rights under HIPAA, even if that patient posted a review about their experience as your patient.

In other words, carrying out a conversation or responding to an online review could easily result in a HIPAA violation, and there are some pretty steep financial penalties for breaking HIPAA.

How to respond to an online review without violating HIPAA

The first step towards managing your reviews is to know that you have them in the first place. With so many people relying on reviews to help them choose which business is even worth going to, it is more important than ever to stay on top of your online presence. Find a process that works for you to encourage, monitor, and interact with the reviews you receive, and make reputation management a part of your routine. You can get started by claiming your online profiles, which will make it easy to spot and manage your reviews. One simple way to start monitoring your online reputation, for free, is to claim your TRL listing today!

So, what happens after you’ve noticed a review come in? You have a few options for where to go from here:

  • Ignore
  • Respond
  • Grow

We’re going to break each of these options down for you a bit more so you can feel confident in handling whatever reviews come your way.


If you are concerned about HIPAA, ignoring a review can feel like the safest option available. If you are unsure about how to safely navigate responding to a review, positive or negative, you might want to err on the side of caution and say nothing until you have crafted a response that is both safe and effective. Ignoring reviews is not generally recommended, as receiving a response, to both positive and negative reviews, shows the client that you care about them and their experience. One of the things people look for when browsing through reviews is to see if the business is engaged with its clientele. Ignoring reviews is a temporary fix, and is not a habit you should fall into.


If you are worried about violating HIPAA when responding to online reviews, we suggest starting out by having a template. First, you need to know what you can and can’t say, and then, you need to show your clients that you genuinely care about their experience.

Remember, you want to avoid posting any information that identifies or confirms someone as a patient, so saying something like “I am sorry you had to wait longer than anticipated before being seen,” is in violation of HIPAA, as is “I’m so glad you loved your experience with Dr. Mendoza!”

Even in the case of a positive review, you want to keep in mind that while writing in a public space, you cannot confirm or give details about anyone’s time as a patient.

When it comes to responding to a negative review, you could try something more like this:

“We strive to provide our patients with the best quality care and experience, and your feedback could help us improve. Please call our office at xxx-xxx-xxxx and we will make the time to personally address any concerns.”

With this, you have shown a personal investment in the experience of your patients; you have highlighted a value that you hope to uphold or have shown your patients the way you hope to be known; you have shown that you value feedback and are open to growth; you have shown future clients that you value online reviews, and you have not violated any of HIPAA’s privacy laws!

While not necessary, you could always mention HIPAA in your response. This might serve as a reminder to the reviewer that their concerns will not be solved or addressed further online, prompting them to take the conversation offline, as requested. If you wanted to mention HIPAA, you could add to your response:

“Due to HIPAA privacy laws, we cannot address your concerns publically.”

Inviting a patient to address their concerns offline shows them that you value them and their feedback. Oftentimes, when someone has negative feedback, their bad experience comes from a place of not feeling heard or valued. Use this opportunity to show them that this is not the case. Your actions could result in the person removing the negative review, updating it, or even becoming a loyal customer.

Positive reviews deserve a little attention, too. A quick response to a positive review shows your patients that you are paying attention to their feedback and care about them and their experience. One response could look like:

“Thank you for this review/feedback. We hope to deliver the best in quality, and we love to hear about positive experiences.”


“We value this positive feedback, and love to know when we’re doing something right. We try to always uphold our commitment to offering great value and excellent service. Thank you!”

Of course, you don’t want to copy and paste the same exact response to every single review and comment you receive, but hopefully, these templates can give you a place to start, so that you can feel confident and comfortable navigating the restrictions of HIPAA online. Remember to always be polite and professional, and to set an appropriate tone to any response you give.


While receiving negative reviews can feel shocking or personal, look at them as an opportunity to grow your practice! You might notice a few reviews that address concerns with wait times. Is there a process you can change that results in decreased waits? Can you make your waiting room more comfortable and inviting? If concerns come up about the professionalism of your staff, can you have a meeting that addresses or reminds them of your standards? In any business, there is always room for improvement, and online reviews have the ability to offer you genuine customer feedback, so make sure you are putting them to good use!

The takeaway

Your online reputation is an important part of your business, and we highly recommend managing it no matter what industry you are in. There are ways to engage with your clientele online while still safely navigating the rules of HIPAA. If you can keep a cool head when it comes to reading your reviews, and can get yourself started with a few simple template responses, you can quickly become a pro at handling online comments. Educate yourself on HIPAA’s policies, and show your clients how much you care about them!

Take the first step towards being in control of your online reputation with Top Rated Local!

By now, you know that your business’ online reputation is undoubtedly linked to online reviews and the way you do or do not respond to them. Top Rated Local has the resources you need to stay on top of your reviews and reputation. Best of all, listing your business with Top Rated Local is free!

How to Handle Bad Reviews

Online reviews can be an important part of how people perceive your business, for better, or for worse. Learn what to do when you get a negative review online.

Reviews are a vital part of your online reputation

While we all hope that everyone would want to sing the praises of our business, the reality is that, sooner or later, you are likely to be the recipient of a bad review. Getting a bad review for your business can definitely feel like a personal attack. For many small business owners, your business is your baby. It’s likely that you pour your heart and soul into your business, so it’s only natural that you would want to protect, not only your business, but also your image. Throughout this article, we will take you through six vital steps that will help you protect your reputation and learn how to deal with bad reviews when they do come in.

Step #1. Notice your reviews.

The first step towards managing your reviews is to know that you have them in the first place. More and more research shows that people rely on reviews to make decisions about where to shop and what products to buy. In fact, according to BrightLocal research, 91 percent of people read online reviews; 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and 68 percent form an opinion after reading between only one to six online reviews. With so many people relying on reviews to help them choose which business is even worth going to, it is more important than ever to stay on top of your online presence. Find a process that works for you to encourage, monitor, and interact with the reviews you receive, and make reputation management a part of your routine. You can get started by claiming your online profiles, which will make it easy to spot and manage your reviews. One simple way to start monitoring your online reputation is to claim your TRL listing today!

Step #2. Don’t ignore negative reviews.

While you don’t want to be reactive, you also don’t want to shrink back and hope that a bad review will just go away, because it won’t. Oftentimes, when someone has left a negative review, they just want to be heard or feel valued, and they won’t get either of those things if you don’t acknowledge their review. In fact, ignoring bad reviews is more likely to make it look like you don’t care about your customers. Seeing no follow-up after a negative review will plant seeds of doubt into the minds of potential customers, and ultimately, makes the negative review seem more believable. Don’t forget, it’s not just the upset customer who sees their review and your response (or lack thereof), it’s also your potential future customers. People will feel reassured of your professionalism when they see that a complaint has been addressed, and it looks good when you are able to handle a potentially negative situation with humility and grace. It might feel uncomfortable in the moment, but in the long-run, you get the opportunity to display your customer service skills and your commitment to the people you do business with. This is the gift a negative review gives you, and is a great chance for you to showcase your best side in a very public space.

Step #3. Take a step back before you respond.

While you definitely want to respond to all negative comments in a timely manner, you don’t want to be reactive and jump to your own defense without taking into regard the feelings of your customer or the way your reaction will read to others. Receiving a negative review can be shocking, and yes, it can feel personal. At the very least, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is a customer who is feeling hurt, unsatisfied, unheard, or somehow mistreated. It can be easy to forget that the person on the other end of that comment is just that — another human being, and not just a faceless screen set on ruining your business and reputation. Take a minute to gather your thoughts before you start typing. Maybe try to write out your response in an email to yourself, and read it out loud to see if your tone sounds balanced and professional.

Step #4. Apologize.

Responding to a negative review is a great opportunity to show yourself the way you want to be seen. In this moment, it is crucial to empathize with your customer and apologize without placing or accepting blame. Even if you feel there has been a misunderstanding, it’s likely that you really are sorry that the customer did not leave your business on a happy note, and that’s a great way to start your apology! You don’t need to assume blame; you just need to showcase understanding and care. A well-crafted apology can be an excellent way to turn a bad review around and show off your business’ credibility. According to a report conducted by Harris Interactive, business owners have an opportunity to turn an upset customer into a loyal advocate. The survey found that when customers received a reply to their negative reviews, 33 percent turned around and posted a new, positive review, and 34 percent deleted the original, negative review. Mistakes happen, and what matters now is how you take responsibility for the customer’s experience. If you accept the mistake and put your customer first, people will feel more confident about trusting you with their business. Keep your apology brief and sincere. Remember, you do not want to accept or place blame here; simply offer empathy and a chance to give the customer a different outcome.

Here is one example of a short but effective apology:

“I am very sorry that you left our business without having experienced the excellent customer service we strive to give. Our customers are important to us, and we would like the opportunity to chat about what went wrong and see what we can do to make things better. Please email me or call me at…”

Step #5. Take the conversation offline.

While it’s important to give a timely reply directly in response to your bad review, end your apology with an invitation to clear things up and rectify the situation in a private setting. If the reviewer is genuinely interested in chatting, you have a great opportunity to turn this situation around, and if they are not, you avoid a public internet showdown, which, while extraordinarily entertaining for those not involved, definitely looks bad for you and your business. Creating a space for you and the reviewer to hear each other out can give you the opportunity to give them a new opinion about you and your business. While you make a public apology in response to the bad review, always end with an invitation to email or call you to see what can be done to turn things around.

Step #6. Learn and implement change when necessary.

Make sure you are listening and learning when negative reviews come in. While some reviews might be the result of an unreasonable venting session, that won’t always be the case. Another value you might get from negative reviews is the opportunity to receive some unfiltered feedback. If the topic of customer service, or timeliness, or store cleanliness always comes up, those are things you are likely going to want to address. Hearing feedback and doing something about it is a responsible and professional way to handle your business, and customers will notice that you care about their experience. In some cases, taking a noticed negative and making a change will make you and your business look even better than if nothing had been wrong in the first place! People respect someone who can learn and change, and customers certainly want to feel heard, appreciated, and valued.

Take the first step towards being in control of your online reputation with Top Rated Local!

Your business’ online reputation is undoubtedly linked to online reviews. Top Rated Local has the resources you need to stay on top of your reviews and reputation. Best of all, listing your business with Top Rated Local is free!

Facebook Recommendations, Reviews, & Ratings – This is How They Help Your Business

Facebook is the social media platform with the most structured business review feature.  Here’s how it works, with tips on how you can use recommendations to boost your reputation and grow your business.

Business and product reviews are some of the most popular content for internet shoppers.  Product reviews on Amazon have a huge impact on sales; studies show a product with just one review is 65% more likely to be purchased than a product with no reviews.

Reputation management case studies show that just adding the Top Rated Local® badge to a website increases conversions.

And on Facebook, the most influential content on a business page usually isn’t the latest post featuring an inspirational quote or cat meme.  It’s customer reviews.

If your business has a Facebook business page (and it should), it’s essential to activate the reviews feature and encourage customers to recommend you.

Recommendations and reviews on Facebook are straightforward, making it easy for customers to leave them.  Here are some important considerations and tips.

No-Star Ratings

In 2018 Facebook modified the review platform by removing the 1-5 star rating.  They replaced it with just a yes/no recommendation:

The reason Facebook made this change reveals an important consideration with reviews.

In short, Facebook concluded that a 5-star, or 1-star or any star in-between review with (at best) a vague text comment wasn’t creating the most authentic or useful content.

With the yes/no recommendation, they felt people would include more content to justify their opinion, including a detailed text review or images.

They also added tags so you can easily comment on certain aspects of the service:

They still do give businesses an overall rating (out of 5), which also takes into accounts older star reviews:

With the recommendations feature, it’s likely Facebook will phase out or replace this, although they’ll probably have some type of score that gives people a quick snapshot of the businesses reputation without having to sift through all the reviews.

Facebook is also seeking to get review content to show into newsfeeds so if people are asking for recommendations review content will appear:

As with all reviews, the best way to get positive reviews on Facebook is to earn them. The quality of your service is the overriding factor.

If you are having a problem with the authenticity of your reviews, you can send a report via the app.

Keep an eye on your reviews and respond to ones that are really good or that require your intervention. Use the report feature if you get unfair on inappropriate reviews.

Reputation management is vital to the health of local businesses, but many business owners find they don’t have the time or expertise to ensure their fine, real-world work is reflected in their digital reviews.  Online reviews are not always fair, and just a few poor reviews can wreak havoc on a business’ growth.  Top Rated Local® and offers reputation management services that help business online reviews shine with strong recommendations and 5-star ratings.

Speak for free with a reputation management consultant to learn more about our reputation management services.