Guide to Responding to Yelp Negativity

It doesn’t matter if your practice is the perfect example of professionalism and patient care; at some point you will receive a negative review.

While you certainly have the right to defend your practice when responding to reviews, it’s important to exercise caution. Because you are bound by HIPAA to protect your patients’ private health information, violating HIPAA can lead to serious consequences for your practice. Read this guide before hastily responding to a negative review.

Understand what you cannot disclose. More often than not, negative Yelp reviews are complaints about rude receptionists or long wait times. However, when a patient leaves a review regarding treatment, your response to that review cannot reference their treatment — even if the patient mentioned it first.

While trying to combat a negative review, one dentist in Washington disclosed details of the patient’s dental records. It is a HIPAA violation to disclose any aspect of the patient’s diagnosis or treatment — or even acknowledge the person is your patient. Knowing the law can save your practice from being reported or fined.

When in doubt, take the conversation offline. Depending on the nature of the review, it might serve your practice to refrain from responding online. Whether you need more information or the complaint is inflammatory, err on the side of caution and take the conversation offline. If you need more information to address a concern presented in a review, never ask the reviewer for any of his or her private health details. Instead, direct the reviewer to contact your practice to further discuss the matter. Innocent inquiries, such as asking for the date the patient visited your practice on a public forum, could result in a HIPAA violation.

Reread, reflect, then respond. The most important lesson when responding to negative reviews is to think before you leap. Never respond to a reviewer when you’re feeling angry or defensive. Take a moment to reread the review, take it in, and then carefully respond. Remember: The patient is always right (even when he or she isn’t). Take the high road, and apologize to the reviewer for the bad experience, and offer a solution if applicable. A professional response not only protects your patient’s privacy but also protects your practice’s reputation.

As long as online review sites like Yelp exist, so will negative reviews. If you learn not to take negativity on Yelp personally, you can keep your practice’s HIPAA compliance intact.

Thanks to TMA endorsed vendor Officite for these tips. Officite can help you with digital marketing at TMA member rates. This is just one of the ways TMA helps support you and your practice. See more ways at

Want to cultivate positive reviews of your practice? Mark your calendar for Friday, July 28, 2017, 9 am-3:30 pm (CT), when TMA brings you Modern Marketing for Five Star Reviews. Attend the live seminar in Austin, or tune in to the live webcast. Registration is open.

Or, ask your county medical society to schedule a free continuing medical education (CME) program in your area. Protect Your Online Reputation, presented by TMA Communications staff, offers one hour of CME credit and one hour of ethics credit. For information, contact Karen Kollar at TMA at (512) 370-1448 or karen.kollar[at]texmed[dot]org.

You also may want to read these publications available in the TMA Education Center:

Published Jan. 26, 2017

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Last Updated On

January 27, 2017

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