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How to take charge of online reviews

More and more people are using online ratings to decide which psychologist to see. How can you navigate a trend that’s here to stay?

Cite this
DeAngelis, T. (2020, October 15). How to take charge of online reviews. http://www.apaservices.org/practice/business/marketing/take-charge-online-reviews
How to take charge of online reviews

Psychology practitioners are well aware of the growing presence and importance of online reviews of health-care providers, featured on commercial sites such as Healthgrades.com, Yelp.com, Vitals.com, and Wellness.com. According to a 2019 survey by the group PatientPop*, 69.9% of respondents considered a provider’s positive online reputation to be very or extremely important in their decision to seek care from a certain practitioner.

While you have no control over what’s written about your practice on review sites, there are ways to lessen the impact of negative reviews and improve your online presence.

Experts recommend that practicing psychologists:

Learn what’s verboten

You might be tempted to respond to a negative review on the platform on which it appears, but the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and state patient privacy laws may prevent that, says Connie Galietti, JD, director of legal and professional affairs at APA. Just because a patient has publicly divulged that they have seen you doesn’t give you permission to acknowledge this fact.

APA Ethics Code Standards on confidentiality, testimonials, and avoidance of patient harm likewise pose limitations on your ability to respond to these reviews, says Lindsay Childress-Beatty, JD, PhD, interim director of APA’s Ethics Office. For example, Standard 4.07 says that psychologists can’t disclose information in public material in ways that could identify the client to others without permission from the client. Standard 5.05 says you can’t solicit testimonials from current clients or from past clients who are vulnerable to your influence. Other ethical no-nos include offering free sessions or other concessions, tracking down complainers on social media and asking them to retract their statements, and requiring clients to sign nondisparagement agreements, all of which potentially place clients in a vulnerable position.

If a review is so egregious that you believe you should respond, see APA’s article on dealing with bad reviews (PDF, 308KB) for helpful guidance.

In general, you can’t ask a site to remove a review—for better or worse, these sites can legally post any material in the public domain and have strict policies about review removal. There are exceptions, however. One is when a review contains inflammatory, racist, sexist, or prejudicial content. Another is when the review is factually inaccurate and does not reflect your mode of practice, in which case you can petition the site with a letter or other relevant information. The site’s terms of service will detail what you can and can’t do and the steps you can take to remove reviews that violate the terms.

Command your profile

In terms of what you can do, start by completing your online profiles on various review sites to give potential clients a better sense of your skills and practice philosophy, recommends Pauline Wallin, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and cofounder of The Practice Institute, a behavioral health consulting organization.

If a site allows it, consider adding a description of your position regarding online reviews, adds Keely Kolmes, PsyD, who studies these reviews (Kolmes uses the pronouns “they” and “them”). In the “About the Business” section of their Yelp profile, for example, Kolmes provides a detailed explanation of the APA ethical principles that apply to online reviews, gently discourages patients from posting practice reviews, and encourages patients to bring up their concerns in therapy instead if they are comfortable doing so.

Monitor your reviews

Keeping a regular eye on how people are reviewing you can help you assess your practice and potentially determine what you need to change, says Wallin. To stay up to date, she advises using notification services such as Google Alerts, Talkwalker.com, and mention.com that will alert you when new reviews appear.

Sharpen your online presence

Creating a strong web presence can help offset negative reviews as well, says Lesly Krome, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who studies online reviews. Besides academic articles, op-eds and magazine articles, consider writing blog posts and tweets that point to helpful new research or news articles in your areas of expertise, she suggests.

In addition, work on boosting your “search engine optimization,” or SEO—those online tweaks that can elevate your position in people’s online searches, Wallin advises. For instance, Google favors fresh content that contains keywords that match prospective client searches. Because SEO is a complex skill to master, Wallin adds, expand your knowledge via information sites such as Google’s SEO guide, or hire a consultant to help.

Collect and post your own data

A legal and effective counterpunch to commercial reviews is collecting your own aggregate treatment satisfaction or outcome data to share with clients or people perusing your business website, says D’Arcy J. Reynolds Jr., PhD, a researcher and associate professor at Southeast Missouri State. While you’re at it, link your website from the review site to make it easier for people to access the findings and demonstrate that you’re a practitioner who values scientific accuracy and integrity, he suggests.

Provide great customer service

Many negative online reviews are not about treatment quality per se, but about poor interpersonal behavior, including by staff. To avoid negative feedback, return phone calls and emails promptly, courteously, and professionally, and train staff to do the same, says Wallin.

Get out there

Meeting people in person and word-of-mouth referrals still matter. Therefore, consider giving free presentations on sought-after topics like stress and anxiety, volunteering for good causes in your community, and making yourself available to the media, Wallin advises. While people may not remember what you said, “they’ll remember that you were on TV or were quoted in a particular article,” she says—and you can promote the piece on your website.

Prepare for patients to mention reviews

Finally, invite patients to share concerns about anything they find about you online that could affect or derail the clinical relationship, Kolmes suggests. Doing so can send the message that it’s OK to bring up sensitive topics, including about you, which in turn can improve therapy overall.

“We really want to encourage psychologists to invite clients to bring in anything that they find about us that affects their feelings about our work,” Kolmes says.