As dental attorneys in Columbus, Ohio, Nardone Limited advises dentists and dental practices on a variety of matters, including labor and employment issues, human resource issues, as well as other legal matters that arise. For example, we are often asked how dental practices should respond to a patient who has posted a negative online review. It is important that dental practices and dentists understand and are aware of the legal constraints of responding to a patient review, as well as the effects of responding from a marketing perspective.
Prior to responding to an online review, the dental practice should determine whether the review is simply a negative review, or whether the review is verifiably false. Determining your next step could depend on the type of review. Under Ohio law, written false statements constitute libel, which could subject the writer to civil liability. In this situation, the dental practice may want to seek advice from legal counsel before responding to a false review. For example, we have been successful in having verifiably false information removed from websites, just by simply doing the due diligence and sending a letter on the dental practice’s behalf. Unfortunately, however, not all reviews or comments posted by patients are false. In this case, the dental practice may feel compelled to immediately respond to the patient to smooth things over. But, dental practices should tread carefully and seek guidance from a legal or dental professional before responding to a review, even if there are good intentions behind the response.
Nardone Limited Comment: For more information on the legal standards governing whether a dental practice can force a patient to remove a negative online review, see Nardone Limited’s prior blog, “Options for Businesses to Remove False Online Reviews.”
Strategies for Addressing Online Patient Reviews
We had the privilege to discuss this often-murky topic with Kristie (Nation) Boltz, founder and CEO of myDentalCMO, to obtain some additional guidance on the top things dental practices should be doing as it relates to online patient reviews. Before responding to negative online patient reviews, you should consider the strategies and recommendations Ms. Boltz and our firm consider to be key items for managing and responding to negative patient reviews.
- Implement a Standard Policy. When discussing this topic with Ms. Boltz, she indicated that the best piece of advice she would give clients who are concerned with negative online reviews, is to create a review policy. The dental practice’s standard office policy should also include procedures for responding to online patient reviews, whether those reviews are positive or negative. This will help provide consistency and will set the expectation the dental practice has for managing its online presence. For example, maybe the dental practice policy designates one person to handle online reviews, or maybe the dental practice implements a standard response for responding to negative reviews. This standard response may suggest that the patient contact the dental practice directly to discuss their concerns offline. The policy should also address HIPAA concerns. For example, under HIPAA, the dental practice cannot publicly divulge any patient information, or even admit that the patient is in fact a patient of the dental practice. Addressing these issues in the dental practice’s policy will help safeguard against unintended HIPAA violations.
- Solicit Positive Reviews. Dental practices should consistently solicit positive reviews. For this reason, dental practice owners might consider purchasing technology that solicits, generates, and monitors patient reviews. These products can monitor many review platforms and can help alleviate some of the dental practice owner’s stress. Dental practice owners should be just as concerned with soliciting positive reviews as it is with responding to negative ones.
- Be Conscious of Your First-Page Reputation. First-page reputations are different for each dental practice. When you perform a Google search of your dental practice, as an example, what comes up first? In most cases, your dental practice website is the first item that appears in the search results. Next, it may be your Facebook page, Yelp, Heathgrades, Instagram, etc. It is important to remember that most potential new patients will quickly scan your first page reputation before calling the practice or requesting an appointment. How many review sites are featured? What is your average raking? Be conscious of what people are seeing when they Google your name or your dental practice name. Having a better understanding of what people first see will help you create a plan for improving your online image.
- Respond to All Reviews. Before responding to any negative reviews, the dental practice should ensure that the dental practice team members are consistently replying to all reviews, including the positive ones. It may send the wrong message if the dental practice is only publicly concerned with negative reviews. Dental practices should acknowledge their loyal and satisfied patients and thank them for their review. It is just as important, if not more important, than responding to the negative reviews.
Contact Nardone Limited
If your dental practice has questions concerning how to address online patient reviews, or questions regarding HIPAA compliance, you should contact the experienced dental attorneys at Nardone Limited. Nardone Limited is well versed in HIPAA compliance, and regularly consults with other dental practice professionals, such as Ms. Boltz. If you have negative online reviews you would like help addressing, please contact us today.