HIPAA Guidelines for Review Management

Online reviews have become a vital part of the healthcare industry. Patients increasingly rely on reviews to make informed decisions about their healthcare providers, making it crucial for doctors and healthcare organizations to get more reviews and monitor their online reputation. 

However, when responding to patient reviews, navigating the strict regulations outlined by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is essential.

Here, we will outline some guidelines that healthcare professionals must follow while addressing patient reviews, ensuring patient privacy, and compliance with healthcare privacy regulations.

*Note that no information contained herein should be taken as legal or healthcare advice. It is for general informational purposes only. Please consult with a legal professional specializing in healthcare matters before taking any action related to the information shared here.  

HIPAA Explained

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA for short, is a policy that regulates how medical professionals interact and communicate with their patients online. These guidelines are in place to ensure that patient privacy is protected. Violating HIPAA guidelines can have dire consequences for care providers, meaning they must be careful when interacting with patients online.

Patient review platforms like ZocDoc and Healthgrades are great for care providers to network and get more patients in the door; however, doctors can find themselves in a sticky situation if they reply to reviews incorrectly. A seemingly benign interaction can result in a HIPAA violation. However, by following these simple guidelines, doctors and other care providers can avoid costly HIPAA violations. Learn more about responding to patient reviews while maintaining compliance with HIPAA below.

What is PHI (protected health information)?

PHI stands for Protected Health Information. Protected health information refers to any individually identifiable health information collected, created, or maintained by a care provider or healthcare organization. PHI is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States.

According to HIPAA, PHI includes any information, whether oral, written, or electronic, that relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health condition of an individual, the provision of healthcare to an individual, or the payment for healthcare services provided to an individual.

Examples of PHI include:

  • Personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, date of birth)
  • Medical records and history
  • Laboratory test results
  • Radiology images
  • Prescription information
  • Health insurance information
  • Billing and payment records
  • Any other information that can link to an individual’s health condition

It’s important to note that PHI is subject to strict privacy and security regulations to safeguard an individual’s health information. Covered entities, such as healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses, must comply with HIPAA regulations to protect PHI and ensure patient privacy. In other words, this is information that doctors and care providers should avoid accidentally sharing on a public forum.

The True Cost of Not Maintaining HIPAA Compliance

It’s only natural for a healthcare facility to want to investigate the circumstances behind a negative online review. However, doing so on a public review site can easily turn into a HIPAA violation. For example, if a patient complains about a physician misreading test results, the provider cannot ask questions about the specifics of the patient’s visit without violating HIPAA’s policies.

An honest mistake like this can result in a HIPAA violation that carries with it significant fees and consequences. See more details below about the different levels of HIPAA violations:

  • An unintentional violation where HIPAA authorities cannot reasonably expect the care provider to know it was a violation can incur a $100 to $50,000 fee per violation.
  • If a care provider violates HIPAA for a reasonable cause, they can incur a $1,000 to $50,000 penalty per violation.
  • Care providers who realize they made a HIPAA violation and quickly rectify their mistake shortly after can be fined $10,000 to $50,000 per violation.
  • Willfully violating HIPAA and refusing to correct the mistake will guarantee a fine of $50,000 per violation, which is the highest amount allowed.

HIPAA-Compliant Guidelines for Responding to Reviews

While responding to patient reviews may seem like a daunting task that isn’t worth the risk, turning a negative experience around can help with patient retention and acquisition. Read on to learn more about responding to patient reviews and concerns online while being HIPAA compliant. 

Maintain Patient Privacy

When responding to reviews, be sure to prioritize patient privacy and adhere to HIPAA guidelines. Avoid disclosing any personally identifiable health information or details that could potentially identify the patient. Respect their right to confidentiality and focus on addressing general concerns or providing non-sensitive information.

Never Share Confidential Information, Even Over Private Messages

While it may be tempting to address specific issues privately, it is vital to remember that sharing confidential information online, even through private messages, can still violate HIPAA regulations. 

Never disclose any protected health information (PHI) in your responses, regardless of the communication channel. Instead, provide general guidance and offer to discuss the matter further offline or through secure, HIPAA-compliant mediums.

Do Not Disclose Specific Medical Issues

Avoid discussing specific medical conditions, treatments, or outcomes in public responses to reviews. Focus on acknowledging the patient’s feedback, then encourage patients to contact the appropriate channels to address their specific medical issues or offer assistance in connecting them to those channels and points of communication while maintaining the appropriate healthcare professional privately.

Take Things Offline

When faced with a review that requires further discussion or resolution, taking the conversation offline is the most advisable course of action. Provide a courteous public response acknowledging the patient’s feedback and expressing a willingness to address their concerns privately. Offer contact information or suggest using secure communication methods such as phone, email, or a secure patient portal to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations.

Use a HIPAA-Compliant Response Template

Having a set of pre-approved HIPAA-compliant response templates can help maintain consistency and adherence to HIPAA guidelines. These templates can serve as a helpful guide when addressing patient reviews and help you streamline your response process while maintaining patient privacy and confidentiality.

Here’s an example of what a HIPAA-compliant review response template could look like:

Dear [Reviewer’s Name],

Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback. We appreciate your perspective and value your experience with us. We understand the importance of addressing your concerns and want to assure you that we take patient privacy seriously.

To address your specific issue, we kindly request that you contact our office directly through [phone/email/secure patient portal]. This will allow us to discuss your concerns privately and take appropriate action to address them. We are committed to providing the highest level of care and want to ensure your satisfaction.

We look forward to hearing from you and resolving this matter in a confidential and timely manner.


[Your Name]

[Your Title/Position]

[Healthcare Facility/Organization]

Utilizing a template like the one above can help you acknowledge the patient’s feedback, demonstrate a commitment to privacy, and provide clear instructions for further communication. Remember to customize the template as necessary to address the specific concerns raised in the review while maintaining HIPAA compliance.

How ReputationStacker Can Help 

Online reviews play a significant role in shaping a healthcare provider’s reputation. While it’s crucial to engage with patients and address their feedback, healthcare professionals must navigate the complexities of HIPAA regulations to ensure patient privacy and data security. This is where a platform like ReputationStacker comes into play.

ReputationStacker understands the unique challenges doctors and healthcare organizations face when responding to reviews. With our HIPAA-compliant review management solution, healthcare professionals can effectively engage with patients while maintaining privacy and adhering to regulatory requirements.

If you’re a healthcare professional seeking a HIPAA-compliant review management solution to streamline the process of review management, consider ReputationStacker. Contact us for more information or learn more about our different plans and how they can help you effectively navigate the world of online reviews while safeguarding patient data. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enhance your online reputation and ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations.

Remember, maintaining patient confidentiality and complying with HIPAA regulations doesn’t mean you should shy away from engaging with online reviews. With the right tools and resources, you can proactively manage your online reputation while safeguarding sensitive health information.


Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.


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