Managing your online reputation can seem like a full-time job. Who knew that monitoring review sites like a hawk, Googling yourself monthly, and following a bunch of hashtags would be something you had to worry about?

You’re a dentist, not a social media or Internet guru.

But, you also know that your online reputation is a critical component for the success of your business, so you and your team diligently follow #allthehashtags and respond to reviews promptly and professionally.

One night, as you’re winding down with a sugar-free beverage, you see a particularly scathing and inaccurate review for your dental practice on Yelp. “Cheryl” is saying you performed unnecessary procedures without asking her and billed her an extra $133 for the service, saying her insurance didn’t cover it.

You know for a fact this isn’t true, but you can’t exactly reply to the review discussing the details of Cheryl’s case. This would violate HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), a law designed to help protect a patient’s data and right to confidentiality.

Among the data protected is anything classified as “identifiable” information about a patient’s case, including:

  • Demographic information
  • Medical history
  • Test and laboratory results
  • Mental health conditions
  • Insurance information

So, now what? You know you should respond. By remaining quiet, you give the impression that “Cheryl” is right, and this can be extremely damaging for your practice, especially since the story she wrote is completely false, or at least exaggerated.

But because of HIPAA and some other legal regulations we’ll discuss momentarily, you can’t respond to negative reviews the way other businesses, like a restaurant, would be able to.

In this guide, we’ll explain how dental reputation management is different from online reputation management for other types of businesses and what you can do to protect and enhance your reputation without breaking any rules.

Challenge 1: You Can’t Respond to Reviews as Openly as Other Industries

72% of people in search of a new doctor turn to online reviews to help them with their choice. This means that your online reputation is extremely important to encourage new patients to ring your office for an appointment.

But, when someone like Cheryl says something about your office that will make online searchers hesitate, your phone lines could stay quiet.

Our advice here is to address Cheryl’s complaint and tread carefully. There are several wrong ways to do this, and just a couple of right ways. Let’s start with the mistakes:

Mistake 1: Get Defensive

Resist the urge to reply with something like, “We’re sorry you felt that you received procedures you did not need, Cheryl. Our recommendations for three fillings were based on your x-rays, and your insurance provider didn’t cover everything we did.”

This response is fraught with issues, including naming the patient, explaining the diagnosis and care she received, and discussing her insurance.

Mistake 2: Open up a Dialogue

You might think that openly offering assistance is helpful, but don’t air your laundry for the world to see. Don’t say something like this: “We apologize that you feel this way, but we would never perform unnecessary procedures, especially without asking. Can you elaborate on what you mean?”

When you work to resolve a complaint, make sure you take it offline. A discussion on a review site not only violates HIPAA, but it opens you up to a “he said, she said” situation that makes you and your office look bad.

Mistake 3: Threaten Retaliation

This might seem obvious, but in the heat of the moment, you might become emotional. Avoid saying something along the lines of, “What are you saying is inaccurate and considered slander. None of what you are saying transpired, and you are purposely trying to hurt our office. You’ll be hearing from our attorney.”

Not only is the tone of this response threatening and ominous, but it also makes your office look petty and unwilling to admit that you might have made an error.

Mistake 4: Admit Your Error

No one’s perfect, but you don’t need to advertise your errors. Cheryl might be right. Maybe you accidentally oversold her a procedure, or there was a billing hiccup. But, you don’t need to get into it in an online discussion. Avoid a comment like, “I’m so sorry this happened! We’ve reviewed your history, and it looks like we indeed make an error! We are beyond embarrassed and will do whatever it takes to make it up to you. Please call our office immediately, and we’ll get this sorted.”

This response does not encourage confidence in your office, and it also gives prospective patients the impression that they have to complain online to be heard.

An ideal response to Cheryl would be something like this:

Example 1: Respect Confidentiality

“We are sorry to hear about this misunderstanding, and we are eager to clear it up. It is our policy to protect all of our patients’ information and discuss important matters offline. Please call us at 555.636.3321 so that we can assist you right away.”

Notice how this response admits no fault, accuses no one of any wrongdoing and offers to resolve the issue offline without any unpleasantness.

Example 2: Stay Positive

Thank you for sharing your experience. It is our mission to provide the best and most prudent care for our patients at a fair and affordable price. We also strive for complete patient satisfaction. Please contact us at 555.636.3321 so that we can work to resolve any issues.

While the first example is probably stronger, this reply helps to communicate to prospective patients what you value most.

Example 3: Don’t Forget to Also Respond to Positive Reviews

Most of your reviews are bound to be positive, so don’t forget to reply to those as well. Again, the same rules apply. Don’t discuss specifics of the patient’s case.

Instead, if someone raves about the service you provided, you can accept the praise and remain HIPAA-compliant with a response like, “Thank you for your kind words. We love hearing your feedback!”

Mistake 5: Not Responding at All

Probably one of the worst things you can do is not respond at all. Dental offices who are uncertain of how to reply while remaining HIPAA-compliant often default to this tactic. However, not offering any response makes you look guilty, or at least unsympathetic to an unhappy patient.

Challenge 2: Several States Prohibit You from Incentivizing for Reviews

Because reviews are such a critical component of your online reputation, it makes sense that you would want to receive as many as possible. After all, if you have 100 5-star reviews and the rest of the dental practices in your area have only 10 or 20, then you’re bound to get more new patients.

As you work to get more reviews, remember that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) prohibits you from incentivizing reviews. Unlike a restaurant that can say something like, “leave us a review on Google and claim $5 off an entrée,” it’s not allowed to ask a patient to leave you a review for a gift like a Starbucks gift card.

So, how can you encourage your patients to leave reviews without breaking the law? Here are a few tips:

  • Ask a patient to fill out an online survey at the end of a visit. After the survey, include a link to leave a review if they’d like to share their experience with others. Caution: if you are trying to get Yelp reviews, make sure you send them this survey after they leave your office. Otherwise, Yelp may flag and filter reviews that come from your office location.
  • Include posters or flyers in your office that provide gentle reminders for patients to leave reviews. Yelp offers these complimentary.
  • Display testimonials and reviews in your office. With their permission, frame pictures of patients and their stories. These testimonials not only help encourage reviews, but they can also be a valuable selling and social proof tool.
  • Include a “Review Us” banner on your website and in your email newsletters. Patients who regularly visit your website or receive your email newsletter will be reminded to write a review.
  • Host a raffle. While you can’t directly reward patients for leaving reviews, you can give them a raffle ticket to win a prize. Each month or quarter, you can raffle off a prize and patients can earn tickets for leaving reviews, checking in on Facebook, and showing up for appointments on time.


Of Benjamin Franklin’s many famous quotes, one of his most compelling is this gem: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it.” No matter how good you are at what you do and no matter how many satisfied patients you have, a single naysayer can potentially unravel what you’ve built.

With any luck, you’ll have some help monitoring and maintaining your online reputation to ensure nothing like that ever happens. A detail-oriented office manager armed with the proper tools and templates can make sure your reputation reflects your real talent and commitment to your craft.