How to address negative comments and reviews

Not every organization is free to refute bad reviews or public comments. Here are some deft workarounds for communicators in sensitive industries.

Communicators are adept in the art of responding to negative online reviews.

It’s a well-known super power; however, how do you respond to online reviews when you can’t really respond?

In some industries—health care, finance or legal services—privacy laws stipulate that a company can’t respond to online reviews because doing so would violate the reviewer’s privacy.

For example, a physician cannot respond to a patient’s online review because doing so would violate the patient’s privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); providers are prohibited from publicly confirming that the reviewer is a patient.

In other cases, company or client policy may dictate that you can’t respond to negative reviews, like when a disgruntled former employee trashes your organization on Glassdoor.

How can a savvy PR pro claim the reclaim the high ground in these situations?

Firstly, avoid a direct public reply. Instead, reply with a general statement that moves the discussion offline. Here are some examples:

  • “In our practice, we strive to provide the highest levels of patient satisfaction. However, we cannot discuss specific situations due to patient privacy regulations. If you are a patient and have questions or concerns, please contact us directly at [phone number].”
  • “In order to protect our patients’ privacy, all patient concerns and complaints are resolved directly by our practice and not through social media. If you are a patient, please contact us at [phone number].”
  • “Because federal privacy laws govern patients’ health information, it is not the policy of [practice name] to substantively respond to negative reviews on ratings websites. If you are a patient and have a concern, please contact us at [phone number].”
  • “We welcome all of our patients and their families to address any concerns or requests for information about their care with us directly at [phone number].”
  • “Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your recent experience with [practice name]. It is only through feedback like yours that we are able to maintain and improve our care and service to patients. We would like to hear more from you. Please contact us at [practice phone number].”

What advice do you have for responding to social media comments and reviews in precarious situations, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to Ragan and PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing, editing, and corporate life at

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