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Maddie Langston | 8/13/2020
ONLINE REVIEWS, SOCIAL MEDIA & HIPAA COMPLIANCE FOR OPTOMETRISTS

Let’s say one day after an exam and a visit in your optical, a patient reviews their experience on your Google business listing and Yelp.

The review includes many details which makes it clear to anyone reading that they visited the practice, had an exam, and worked with an optician. It’s mostly a positive review, but the patient mentions they were confused and frustrated about the out of pocket expense when checking out – they thought the entire visit and the order placed for glasses would be covered by their insurance, and insinuate that the practice is somehow in the wrong.

When you read the review, you decide to educate not only the patient but others who may read your response about vision plans, medical insurance, and co-pays. You address the patient directly, so that anyone reading the response understands that this person is indeed your patient.

After all, this is a public forum. It’s the internet. Surely the patient gave up the right to privacy by sharing all that detail about their visit on the internet, and you don’t want to see your practice portrayed in a negative light on Google and Yelp. You have good intentions! You want anyone reading that review to understand your side of the situation.

Despite the good intentions you have, when a patient shares a first-hand account of their experience with you on a public review site or on social media, this does not give you permission to publicly acknowledge that this person is a patient.

According to Abyde, a strategic partner to IDOC which provides HIPAA compliance software and education to optometry practices, patients are not held to the same restrictions as the practice and may post about visiting you at the office (on the internet) – but even if the patient posts, no practice employee is permitted to acknowledge or respond to their post or comment – even if tagged – in any way that acknowledges the patient came to the practice.

So how should you respond to an online review or social media comment?

The appropriate, HIPAA-compliant method for responding to online reviews and comments on social media is to write a generic response which doesn’t directly acknowledge the patient. Here is an example of how you could respond to the patient’s review that they were frustrated at the out of pocket expense:

"Thank you. Our mission at the practice is to provide excellent eye care and customer service. Please call or email our practice with any questions or concerns."

This response does not directly address the details of the experience and encourages the patient to contact the practice offline. It is also friendly and demonstrates that the practice cares about patient feedback.

I acknowledge the challenge you have as a practice owner or manager when it comes to interacting with patients on review sites and social media because of HIPAA, but you can be HIPAA-compliant and present a responsive, professional and friendly tone in all of your public responses which will serve your brand well.

Maddie Langston
Associate Director, Marketing Services
Maddie Langston brings extensive experience in marketing and sales administration and has developed strategies and platforms to drive sales for organizations in the fitness and business services industries. Most recently, Maddie developed marketing programs for a national network of independently owned auto repair service centers. This is where she developed her passion for partnering with small business owners to help them compete with franchises and big box retail chains. Maddie earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Liberty University. She is excited to be a part of the IDOC team, and to help you utilize marketing to brand your practice, retain patients, and drive new patients to you.
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