Category Archives: Reputation Management

How Online Reviews Influence Prospective Patients

When you are travelling in an unfamiliar city, or when you are simply looking for a change of pace in your hometown, do you ever find yourself using online reviews to help choose a restaurant? Believe it or now, many people go through a similar process when choosing a new doctor. In fact, according to the 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey, Medical/Healthcare is second only to Restaurants/Cafes in the importance of reputation when choosing a business.

The website has done research into how patients use online reviews, surveying patients in 2013, 2014, and again in 2016. The 2016 findings provide valuable insights into the importance of reviews, including:

  • 84% of respondents use online reviews to evaluate doctors
  • 77% of these people start their search with online reviews
  • 47% would prefer an out-of-network doctor with better reviews than an in-network doctor

Leveraging Online Reviews for Your Practice

Despite the statistics listed above, we find that some physicians are not comfortable being proactive about encouraging their patients to review them. These same physicians often come to us with a complaint: their new patients are rarely reporting that they found them online. Instead, these new patients tend to come from a personal referral, from an insurance company’s provider directory, or from other offline sources. In virtually all of these cases, the practice has at least one direct competitor who has a significant number of positive online reviews. Given patients’ tendencies to depend on reviews, is it really a surprise that doctors who have very few reviews are not acquiring very many of these patients?

The good news is that there are many ways to encourage happy patients to post positive reviews. These include low-tech options that will meet the needs of many practices, as well as technology driven options that help in even the most competitive of situations.

Want more ideas? Download “7 Steps to Positive Reviews“, or request a consultation.

Responding to Online Reviews in a HIPAA Compliant Manner

HIPAA violation document - stay HIPAA comliant

You probably already know that due to HIPAA, you are limited with regard to how and what you can communicate with patients online. But did you realize that staying HIPAA compliant when responding to online reviews is becoming more and more risky for doctors? A recent article co-published by ProPublica and The Washington Post provides examples of violations, based on unique access they were provided to over 1.7 million Yelp reviews. As this article states, (emphasis added): “The law forbids [health care providers] from disclosing any patient health information without permission.

Still not sure about this? The best thing you can do is speak to your attorney and/or other HIPAA experts. Don’t have access to a HIPAA expert? Find one now! Don’t like dealing with lawyers? Believe me, you’ll like it less when one is presenting you with a HIPAA violation.

If you’d like to learn more now, check out the links below. Along with each article, you’ll find a quote that gets to the heard of this matter:

1. Responding to Negative Online Patient Reviews: 7 Tips

“Follow HIPAA. The medical profession is uniquely hampered in its ability to respond to online reviews because of patient privacy laws. You simply cannot disclose any protected health information in your response, because the patient has not given you consent to do so. The fact that the patient may have disclosed private information in his initial review does not give you permission to do the same in response.”

2. How to Be HIPAA Compliant when Responding to Negative Online Reviews

“Even if a patient chooses to disclose personal information online, a physician is still prevented from doing so without that patient’s consent”

3. The Do’s and Don’t of Responding to Online Reviews About Your Practice

“Never publicly discuss patient specifics. A patient can post anything they want about their visit with you, but it is a major HIPAA violation for you to say anything about them in a response.”

4. The Right Way to Fight Bad Online Reviews

“Some doctors assume that if patients publicly disclose protected health information on their own, doctors are free to respond. This is not accurate. The reason is simple: The doctor does not have the patient’s permission to disclose protected health information—regardless of whether the patient did so first on her own.”


The 3 Main Types of Online Patient Feedback

Social Media is one of 3 main types of patient feedback

When patients are especially happy or particularly frustrated with their physician, they are increasingly likely to go online and tell the world about it. This user-generated content is one of the most valuable and also the most challenging aspects of the Internet. Read on to learn about the three main forms of online patient feedback, along with ideas for how to deal with it. Later, you can dig deeper with our one page quick reference guide, The Top 5 Online Reputation Management Tools for Physicians.

  1. Ratings and Reviews: These are generally found on directories, including general sites such as Google and Yelp and medical industry sites such as Healthgrades and Vitals. Whether attached to a medical practice or an individual physician, your ratings and reviews can make a drastic difference in whether or not a patient chooses you as their doctor. General sites tend to have a simple standard structure of a 1- to 5-star rating system with an open-ended review. Health directories tend to have a more detailed and complex structured system that rates providers on a number of different factors.
  2. Social Media Sites: Facebook and Twitter are the two main sites where patients submit feedback, but LinkedIn — which has the advantage of giving you a large degree of control over your “Recommendations” — and many others also contribute to the landscape. Facebook actually allows for reviews, and has joined Google and Yelp as one of the top-tier review sites for local businesses. Social media sites welcome less structured feedback by allowing people to post comments directly to a business or to simply tag a business whether or not that they have an active presence on the network.
  3. Blogs and Miscellaneous Websites: With over 100 million blogs now online, you never know which patient might have their own online following. Blog feedback is rarely a patient’s first response, but if someone is particularly frustrated (or happy, but this is less common), the situation can escalate from a review or social media comment into a full-blown blog post. A widely-read post can result in greater exposure, and in some cases online news publications will pick up the story and spread it far and wide.

Ready to dig deeper? Download our one page quick reference guide, The Top 5 Online Reputation Management Tools for Physicians – just fill out the form below and we’ll send it right over.

Eight Ways for Physicians to Improve Their Online Reputation

Smiling doctor at the clinic giving an handshake to his patient, healthcare and professionalism concept

What story does the Internet tell about you? Your online reputation is formed by information that people can find about you online.  People mostly form their impression from content found in the first page or so of search engine results. Since people will search in a variety of ways, and get overlapping but different results from each method, most physicians end up with two to three dozen sites that make up the bulk of their online reputation.

Check out these eight actionable tips to help you take control of your personal online reputation.

Fill our the form below to sample the first module of our class “Optimize Your Online Presence: A Physician’s Field Guide to Online Reputation Management”.

  1. Claim (or create) and optimize your directory listings in physician-specific directories and general business directories. One trick, if you are not in a rush, is to start by correcting your information in the NPI Registry, as that information propagates to some of the commercial directories.
  2. Read and consider responding to all of your online reviews. Due to HIPAA and other factors, a public response is not always possible, but a private response is often an option. Even if you don’t respond, you may be able to learn from trends seen across reviews.
  3. Ask patients about their experience, and encourage positive reviews. Some practices incorporate this encouragement into their workflow with every patient. Others focus on people they know to be their happiest patients. There is no single right way, but there is no denying that online reviews are one of the most powerful tools for both search engine optimization (SEO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) – yes, reviews will help you get in front of more prospective patients AND convert a higher percentage of prospects into new patients.
  4. Make sure the website of your current employer(s) are optimized for your name. A bio/profile page on a company website can be optimized to appear near the top of most physician name searches. If you have negative content to push down, this is one good tool in your arsenal.
  5. Make sure past employers have removed you from their websites and other online properties. This content, whether on the practice or hospital website or within their social media presence, can confuse both prospective and existing patients.
  6. Create profiles and participate in discussions on social media sites. LinkedIn is a great option, as an optimized profile will rank well for searches on your name, and it is the easiest  of the popular social networks on which to maintain a professional presence. Facebook can also rank well for your name, and if you have negative search results to push down, there are ways to use it in a professional manner.
  7. Write for, or get quoted in, online news sites. News sites tend to rank well in search engines. A regular column in even a small online publication can lead to multiple pages ranking well for your name. And, any sort of article about you, such as an interview or profile, will likely rank well if it is from a legitimate news source – even if that source is a hyperlocal site.
  8. Create content related to your areas of expertise. This final tip contains a world of opportunity. Whether you focus on simple but important consumer health tips, or academic research aimed at other healthcare professionals, if you produce consistent content, some of it will end up ranking well for your name. You can use many different platforms, such as a company blog, personal blog, a Facebook Business Page or Group, a LinkedIn Group, a YouTube Channel, a SlideShare account, and many more. Content can even be repurposed across multiple channels in order to get control of an increasing number of links that rank well for your name.

Fill our the form below to sample the first module of our class “Optimize Your Online Presence: A Physician’s Field Guide to Online Reputation Management”.

Webinar: What Every Doctor Needs to Know About Reputation Management


In this free 30 minute webinar, you will learn how to manage the search results that people see when searching for your name.


  • The importance of search results
  • How directories work
  • What to do about reviews
  • Getting control of your results

Date & Time

Tuesday, April 12
11 AM PST / 2 PM EST

Presented By

Ira Pasternack
President, WebForDoctors

Fill out the form below to sign up:

HIPAA Considerations for Medical Practice Review Responses

More and more, patients are sharing their healthcare experiences on online review platforms such as Google+, Yelp and Angie’s List. These reviews shape your business’ reputation and have the power to prompt or dissuade new visitors. While you can’t control the content of reviews, you can influence how people perceive your business by responding with respect and sensitivity.

Reaching out to patients who have reviewed your service will humanize your business and demonstrate that their feedback matters. If their review is positive, you can thank them for their comments. If it’s negative, you can apologize and address the issues head-on. Your response is an opportunity for collaboration and transparency.

Before you begin responding to patient reviews, it’s important to understand how to do so in accordance with the privacy laws of HIPAA. When a patient posts a review that describes their experience with your business, they may state details about their medical history. This is their prerogative. However, legally, it does not forfeit their right to privacy and as a medical provider, it’s your duty to maintain it. You cannot discuss any details about their medical needs, visit or even acknowledge that they are indeed a patient. This makes responding tricky, but not impossible. Follow the guidelines below to write effective, HIPAA-compliant responses.

1. Explain your consideration of HIPAA.
Help your audience understand that your generalized response is out of respect for the privacy of your patients.  “Under HIPAA, I am unable to discuss the specifics of this user’s review.”

2. Cite company policies.
Since you are unable to discuss specifics, cite general company policies that correspond to the issue at hand. This helps communicate the values of your business without crossing HIPAA.

3. Be courteous and professional.
This is a best practice as a business owner. It’s difficult and unnecessary to win an argument with a frustrated patient so keep your responses helpful and diplomatic.

4. Say thank you.
Show your patients and visitors that you appreciate their feedback, whether it’s good or bad, by thanking your reviewers. This demonstrates that you respect their opinion and are open to constructive criticism.

References and Further Reading:

7 Steps to Positive Reviews- free download!

Web for Doctors is now offering another great resource to add to your online marketing toolkit- 7 Steps to Positive Reviews. Based on Ira Pasternack’s popular webinar, 7 Steps is part of our Reputation Management Series and will show you how real-world interactions impact your online marketing efforts.

Head on over here to enter your email and instantly receive your copy of this great guide.

Reputation Management for Doctors and Medical Practices

Over the past decade, the rising use and importance of online reviews and social media have changed the way in which patients learn about doctors and medical practices.   Many people trust and depend on the information they find online, using this to compliment or even replace the word-of-mouth recommendations they might have depended on in the past. These new ways of communicating create the need to manage one’s online reputation.  This can be done with a 3-step process:

  1. Discover existing reviews and monitor the web for new ones
  2. Address the reviews
  3. Encourage more positive reviews

Review Discovery and Monitoring

In order to find existing reviews, the first step is to check the main review sites.   Google Local and Yelp are the two most important review sites for businesses of all types, including medical practices.   Search these sites for your practice name and the names of each of your providers, and you’ll have a great idea of what people are likely to see when they begin to learn about you online.  In addition, Healthgrades and Vitals are important sites for reviews specifically about doctors.  Make sure to search for all providers affiliated with your practice on these sites.

As you locate your various directory listings, you should create a documents to keep track of all the sites.   We like to use a spreadsheet, where you have one column for each location of your practice, and one column for each provider.   Then, you’ll have an easy way to check in on the most important sites.   The simple way to monitor is to manually check each site.   In addition, there are many services on the Web to help you monitor changes – you can read about 5 of these monitoring tools here.   There are even free tools to help you specifically monitor reviews, such as  Or, you can work with an agency – like us 🙂 – to get help in gathering this information.

Dealing with Reviews

Once you find your reviews, the next step is to address them.   If you have negative reviews, the first thing you should do is determine if you can get them removed.   Every review site has its own terms of service.  If you are able to identify any way in which a reviewer breaks the terms, you can request that the review be removed.   In cases where removal is not an option, a response often is the best approach.

By responding to a negative review, addressing the complaint, and offering a solution, you can help humanize your practice and show others reading the review that you are a business that will solve problems should they occur.  You can also respond to positive reviews.  This can be equally as valuable as responding to and fixing a negative.   By responding to the positives, you have a chance to reinforce the things that the reviewer mentioned.  Also, you will help that positive review take up more real estate on the review page, possibly pushing any negative reviews further down the page.

One important note:   always be sure to avoid getting into a discussion involving any PHI.   If in doubt, post a general response, and suggest that the reviewer contact you offline, as you are not permitted to discuss their personal information online due to HIPAA regulations.

Encouraging Positive Reviews

The last step in the reputation management process involves encouraging positive reviews.   Depending on your practice, the personalities of your providers, and other factors, some combination of the following can be used:

  • Ask your happy patients personally
  • Include a review “tip sheet” with instructions for posting in the checkout materials you give a patient
  • Include links on your website to review sites
  • If you send any type of practice newsletter, include a request there
  • If you have a profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media sites, post a link to your review sites

Help Dealing with Online Patient Feedback recently published a fantastic article titled “Online Patient Feedback: What to Do“.   This article goes into fairly extensive detail on how to deal with negative patient reviews, and is very similar to the process we use for our clients here at WebForDoctors.

The article covers:

  • the importance and appropriate ways to respond to reviews
  • methods for removing reviews from some sites
  • ideas to help you encourage positive reviews
  • use of online alerts to track reviews
  • ways you can learn from your reviews
  • the value of reviews for search engine marketing

As online reviews have become more and more widespread, they have become one of the most important aspects of medical online marketing.   Use this article to get started, and if you need help let us know!