From the desk of Mark Molloy, AMTA-MA Chapter Legal Advisor & Lobbyist
With the advent of social media, any licensed professional may encounter a client who posts on social media about an unsatisfactory experience in your office. It is upsetting and frustrating way to receive feedback – whether based in fact or not. The question for massage therapists remains: do I respond or not?
As health care providers, massage therapists must be careful in how they respond to online posts due to protections provided patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA’s) Privacy Rule. Client (i.e. patient) information, even when revealed by the individual, cannot be confirmed by a health care provider (i.e. massage therapist) without that person’s consent. That said, HIPAA’s Privacy Rule does not prevent you from responding – you simply cannot reference any details about the individual you provided a massage to.
So, if you decide to respond, these are some of the key elements to remember:
- Respond generally as to your policies or standards; do not speak to a client’s particular experience. It’s easy to violate HIPAA’s Privacy Rule if you try to address the patient’s comments specifically. Keep your responses broadly focused. For example, if your client commented that “I was there and the massage room was too small, unhygienic and messy.”; a response that “Thank you for your feedback. While XYZ Massage meets all state and local regulations governing massage establishments and the standards for hygiene and cleanliness, we strive to exceed the expectations of each client.” is an acceptable response.
- Offer to discuss the experience offline. Notwithstanding HIPAA’s Privacy Rule, you do not want to get into a “back-n-forth” online with a client. Offering to discuss their experience over the phone or in-person removes any concern about HIPAA or the chance for an encounter to turn counterproductive or create the perception that you do not welcome feedback. People respect someone who is willing to acknowledge and listen to their concerns.
- One bad review is not the end of the world. Keep your perspective. One review will not make or break your business. Most people recognize this. If you have an online presence or know others provide feedback on a certain website, encourage your clients to do the same if they are happy with their experience. How many times have you read one or two bad reviews on Amazon about a product, but bought it anyways because 50 other people liked the product?
- Use the feedback to improve your business, if possible. Even though some people’s feedback may represent unrealistic expectations, there is still an opportunity to use this information to improve your work, business, or its processes. Consider how this client’s experience could have been improved and, if possible, take the steps necessary to ensure that it is addressed. Feedback – both positive and negative – can help you improve as a professional.
Finally, you may occasionally encounter a client who simply goes too far and makes outright false statements. In these circumstances, an online platform (i.e. Yelp, etc.) may remove the review if the post violates the service’s content guidelines. If a post violates a platform’s content guidelines, you may ask the online platform to take down the post. Please note that the online platform will not act as arbiter between the two parties over subjective issues. It will simply address any information that violates the service’s content guidelines. You will need to demonstrate why a post violates the platform’s content guidelines.
Social media and other online resources are both a blessing and burden. Recognize that the same rules that apply in “real” life apply to circumstances “online”. Consider the aforementioned items, and remember to be kind, thoughtful and polite in anything you post.