September 6, 2016

Capturing Patient Reviews and Pesky Regulatory Details (Part 1)

By Jeff Segal

Online reviews have changed the consumer landscape in influencing buying decisions. Healthcare is affected by the same dynamic. Healthcare marketing departments have embraced online patient reviews as the next new thing. Such reviews provide valuable information for quality control, marketing, public relations, and risk management.

A Marketing Department’s mission often collides with the Legal and Regulatory Compliance Department. In spite of the natural conflict, coexistence is possible, as long as marketers are aware of legal and regulatory constraints.

We’ll tackle the alphabet soup of relevant federal agencies and statutes over three posts. Federal Trade Commission, HIPAA (as enforced by the Office of Civil Rights for Department of Health and Human Services, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Let’s get started.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

The FTC mandates that if you pay a person for an online review, the reviewer must disclose the payment in the review. And payment is interpreted broadly. It includes a discount, free services, or a gift.

Assume a doctor offers a $25 Amazon gift card to any patient who writes a post that successfully lands on Google reviews.

A review that would get the attention of the FTC might look like this:

“Dr. Smith saved my mother’s life when he came to the ICU at 2AM.”

A review that would comply with FTC guidelines might look like this:

“Dr. Smith saved my mother’s life when he came to the ICU at 2AM. He also gave me a $25 Amazon gift card to write this review.”

While compliant, it looks like the review was bought and paid for. That’s precisely why the FTC frowns on paying for reviews.

Simple rule of thumb. Don’t pay for reviews. And remember, payment means any consideration, including discounts and gifts.

We’ll tackle other constraints imposed by federal agencies and statutes in Part 2 and 3.

Here are the links to Part 2 and Part 3.

Disclosure: Jeff Segal, MD, JD, is a member of Mayo Clinic Social Media Network, founder of Medical Justice Systems, and CEO of eMerit.

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