Your worst nightmare has come true – you’ve received some negative patient reviews on Google for your mental health or healthcare business.
How should you respond to negative patient reviews? What should your next steps be? Will it completely ruin your practice? That’s what we’re covering in this article. We’ll discuss some ways you can handle negative patient reviews for your practice that are HIPAA compliant and effectively deal with the situation – keep reading!
A Negative Patient Review On Google – The Horror!
The possibility of negative reviews is many healthcare business owners’ worst nightmare. So much time and energy is spent ensuring your patients have the best experience possible. Especially in the mental healthcare realm, the service is extremely personable – so when someone posts a bad Google review, it feels like either A. an attack or B. like you weren’t able to offer the support your client needed.
Getting bad reviews is one of those things you know is possible, but you never think it’ll happen to your practice. Your coaching or therapy services have impacted so many lives – there’s no one you can think of that would ever tell Google they are dissatisfied.
Then, BAM! It happens. And when it does, so many thoughts instantly plague your mind. You may feel betrayed, embarrassed, upset, defensive, or even angry. You’re left thinking about what went wrong – it can make you feel like you’re not cut out for this.
And then on top of it, you’re left thinking of the potential business impact. With studies pointing to statistics like 82% of American adults read online reviews before working with a business, it could feel like the practice you’ve worked so hard to build is beginning to crash and burn.
You may wonder what the next step should be. Should you defend yourself? Would it be best to try and remove the negative review? Is it time to take your Google My Business listing down? Should you just ban yourself from the internet for a few weeks and pretend it never happened?
Before Reacting Bad Google Reviews, Remember
BREATHE. It will be okay.
Bad Google reviews are not the end of the world or your practice. They may seem like it at the time, but IT WILL BE OKAY.
Negative reviews happen to every business, even health-related ones, and it’s human nature to feel discouraged or angry when they do.
But here’s the thing to remember – you cannot control bad Google reviews. Sometimes, you’re just not going to align with the patient you’re serving, and nothing you do will be able to change that. Plenty of mental health and healthcare business get negative patient reviews, that’s not what matters.
In fact, potential clients expect SOME mixture of review ratings – because all 5-star reviews look just as bad as all 1-star ones.
What counts are your actions following the negative review. That’s what matters most for other potential patients. They want to see how you handle it when it inevitably happens. So put down the pitchforks, or in this case, not-so-happy typing fingers. You don’t need to write a long-winded defense or plead with Google to remove the review.
How To Respond To Negative Patient Reviews – Guidelines and Tips
When you’re questioning how to respond to negative patient reviews, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Resist the urge to take it personally
Remember, there are a lot of factors at play that may have influenced your client’s experience, despite them saying it was directly caused by you. We all have external factors that influence our perceptions of services. As a mental health professional, you know better than anyone else how much emotional baggage others may be carrying daily.
Bad Google reviews do not make you any less awesome at your job. If anything, it simply means you were not a fit for this particular client. That’s okay though – because it makes it easier for you to see the clients you ARE a fit for when they come into your life.
It’s a learning opportunity, NOT a failure
Bad experiences are an opportunity to learn so something similar may not happen in the future. Was the cause of the bad review something within your control? Did you have a long waitlist? An unclear insurance policy? Were there any miscommunications or unclear expectations set?
If the cause of the negative patient review was something within your control, you can consider this review a golden ticket of sorts! You know EXACTLY what to do to ensure better patient experiences in the future – something not many therapists or clinicians can say.
Make it a priority to improve the point the reviewer made within your practice, and watch the positive reviews start to flow in.
Deleting the review will not solve the problem
Remember, patients don’t expect a practice to have 100% positive Google or Yelp reviews. The fact that you have a couple of non- 5 stars is far more believable since it’s less likely to be faked.
Trying to get the review deleted is more likely to make matters far worse than better The reviewer just wants their concerns heard and acknowledged – so when you delete the review, they will find another way to share their distaste, which may become more detrimental to your practice.
The same goes for permanently closing your Google My Business listing. That’s just avoiding the problem as well, not to mention preventing your business from gaining all those local SEO benefits! It’s best to man up and face the review head-on, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
HOWEVER, if the review is inappropriate, untruthful, or spam, you do have grounds for getting the negative review removed. In these cases, contacting Google would serve best. I would recommend reviewing Google’s review flag policy before doing so.
Don’t ignore the reviewer, but also keep HIPAA in mind
Completely ignoring the reviewer is never okay, but you must remember what can and can’t be disclosed online. As a mental health or healthcare professional, HIPAA prevents you from sharing any indication of a client being a client and may get you in quite a bit of legal trouble.
However, replying publicly is important. It shows other potential clients that you acknowledge the negative review and are willing to take steps to right a wrong. There are ways you can reply publicly without getting yourself in legal trouble. For example, you can refer to your practice’s policies instead of identifying any unique session identifiers. You can also refrain from using therapists’ names when discussing the treatment of someone in your group practice.
Another thing to point out is your patients do not have the same restrictions, so they may disclose personal health information regarding their treatment. In these cases, it’s best to keep your responses more on the generic side and offer them the option of contacting you offline for a more detailed response.
Consider your relationship with the patient before responding
Before responding to bad Google reviews of your practice, review any notes or communications you or your staff have had with the patient. Especially if you own a group practice, this will help you gain a clear picture of all communication the patient had with other staff members so you know what could’ve gone wrong.
Reviewing all contact points can also help give you an idea of the persona of the reviewer and what type of action they may respond best to. Some clients may want a more formalized discussion first, while others will just want the problem solved. Reviewing past notes and behaviors can help guide your path forward.
Apologize SINCERELY and be authentic
We’re all humans dealing with other humans. Wherever you end up addressing the concern, be sincere and genuine in your response. People can sniff out a fake or templated apology – you don’t want to be that practice owner. So instead of taking the easy way out…
- Thank them for offering their feedback
- Address their specific concern
- Empathize with how they’re feeling
- Personalize it as much as you legally can,
- Offer a solution or way to contact you beyond the keyboard.
Take action on improving the situation
As previously mentioned, there are two main things that clients want when they write a bad Google review. One is to be heard, and the other is to have their problem solved.
If it’s possible to solve their problem, take the necessary steps. What do you think would satisfy this client and make the situation better? What solution will best solve the problem and is reasonable given this client’s circumstances?
This is where you may want to put your problem-solving hat on! If there is a wrong (even just a perceived wrong) that can be made right, you should attempt to make that reality. Not only will it help provide closure to the situation, but it’s more likely to turn around the client’s attitudes towards your practice.
Just think about any time you have been dissatisfied with a business, spoke out, but then an owner or manager fixed the issue. You feel seen, heard, and understood, and are WAY more likely to recommend that place to a friend. The same thing applies here.
Positive reviews can outweigh the few negatives
Potential clients do not base decisions on one review. In fact, according to a 2022 Brightlocal survey, 2/3 of those seeking services form their opinions after reading 4 reviews. That means that if you increase your positive review count, it’ll likely drown out one or two negatives.
It is important to keep HIPAA in mind with this, as you cannot legally solicit reviews from your current clients. You can make it known, however, that you do have a Google My Business page – which may incentivize your patients to write a few words. Link to it on your website, newsletter, or email signature without telling others to leave reviews.
Also, a lot of mental health and healthcare practices gain positive reviews from colleagues within the field who can vouch for the quality of their services. Ask former supervisors or current colleagues if they’d be willing to write a few positive words about your services and what they’ve witnessed (without naming specifics, of course!).
Remember: Your Practice WIll Survive
Getting bad Google reviews from patients is never fun, and it can feel like a gut punch when it does happen. BUT it won’t be the end-all, be-all of your practice. As long as you handle it respectfully and professionally, it can show potential clients your empathetic, caring nature.
When you hire SEO support, such as MindThrive, we can help triage your reviews and increase the positive ones. If you’d like to reach out for Google My Business assistance, click here to schedule a call.