Mental Health/Counselor reviews - HIPAA

Monica Simpson

LocalU Member
Joined
Sep 25, 2018
Messages
93
This is for US based businesses only... question for about mental health services. How do you handle reviews? Here in America we have this thing called HIPAA which ensures privacy of all patients at any medical facility. Recently a counseling center used a Google review snippet - at the urging of a patient who was helped - for a billboard and added the first name to the review. They were sued for violating privacy laws/HIPAA so now I have a mental health counselor client who has no desire to even attempt getting reviews. Has this come up for you or anyone else? I do see reviews on the pages of other therapists. Thank you in advance for your response!
 

lincolnchan

LocalU Member
Joined
Jun 3, 2020
Messages
14
Hi @iwritewebcopy ,

I know we're in Canada where the rules are a bit different, but in general we're very careful not to solicit any reviews for our clients in sensitive industries (i.e. counselling). Given the therapist/patient relationship we would never want people to feel pressured into leaving a review.

Even when using Google reviews on your website, we use plugins that scrape them from Google rather than copying them ourselves.
 

Justmind

Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
Messages
6
I am a therapist and will attempt to as we do this: The answer is complex as there are multiple hoops including ethics boards and HIPAA. Psychologists are different from counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. So, each of them have different stuff around this from an ethics perspective but they tend to be focused on the individual clinician asking for reviews and not the practice as a whole. Counselors tend to allow reviews but you can’t solicit them. This can be sidestepped by saying, “we aren’t allowed to ask you for reviews but Google also forbids us from not allowing you access to them... (so, here are the links).”

HIPAA is another hurdle. We get around this by screening all 1st party reviews and anonymizing them and removing any with identifying information in them. We can’t do this with Google but we don’t promote the Google Reviews on our site. We also use Gatherup as our service for reviews and they sign a BAA, to help keep the information secure and compliant.

When I have talked to HIPAA lawyers about this they are generally against all reviews but they acknowledge that clients will still make them. They tell you to avoid things like “find us on Yelp” as a sticker on your office door and things like that. It’s hard as they acknowledge people can leave reviews but everything outside of that gets tricky... like responding to reviews. You can’t acknowledge that they were a client in your response. It has be broad with something like, “We hate to hear of anyone having a negative experience. Due to privacy laws we can’t address concerns online. If anyone has concerns they should do so by contacting ___.” Or something like that. It’s a fine line to walk. My suggestion would be to sit down with a HIPAA attorney or an attorney to that works with therapists and iron out what will work. At the very least they should be able to use a system like Gatherup for first party reviews to help audit how things are going for clients. This is tremendously useful during covid since everything is online and it’s hard to know otherwise.
 

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