Protection is better than cure

Reputation smallJoanne Gill of GLR Public Relations explores how to manage your reputation in a crisis

A lot of things can go wrong if you’re a dentist, from patients who don’t complete their treatment plan then complain to their friends and family, or worse on social media; to associates who don’t follow the correct cross-contamination procedures and staff who think it’s okay to moan about patients on Facebook.

It’s Monday morning and you walk in to find your reception staff giggling over a Facebook post by one of their colleagues complaining about the rather rude gentleman who gave her a mouthful on Friday because the dentist was running late.

Unless you are a corporate, you probably haven’t got an HR team you can get to discipline the member of staff or a communications team who can handle the public post – as a principal dentist the buck stops with you. And the best way of making sure you know what to do in this situation is to be prepared with a reputational management plan. Hitting the roof or the panic button will get you nowhere and could turn a mini crisis into a major one.

Your plan should include the different stakeholder groups you may have to communicate with in a crisis, different scenarios with draft press statements, staff communications, website and social media content and patient communications.

In thinking through the different scenarios that may impact your business, from a patient complaint to a fire, it will enable you to identify risks and mitigate against some of those – if, for instance, you don’t have a social media policy setting the expectation of how your staff represent your practice and its patients online, then you can do nothing when they do something you don’t approve of.

In contrast, if you have one in place, the team already know how you wish to manage your reputation online and you can take action against people who don’t follow your guidelines, ultimately removing them from your business altogether if you feel their behaviour online is inconsistent with your brand – without facing a claim of unfair dismissal.

The do’s and don’ts that follow are good pointers for anyone dealing with a reputational issue in their practice.

• Treat your patients and staff the way you would expect to be treated yourself.
• The right thing clinically and morally.
• Be aware of the data protection act and ensure you have consent to share information about a patient before you do so whatever the circumstances.
• Have a social media policy as part of your staff handbook.
• Discipline staff who say anything damaging about you, your practice or patients on social media and have the posts removed.
• Investigate any accusations of impropriety by clinicians quickly and efficiently.
• Report any evidence of clinical negligence to the Local Health Board, the GDC and Public Health Wales, NHS England, or NHS Scotland as quickly as possible.
• Remove clinicians who you suspect of wrongdoing from your premises to prevent patient contact, either through suspension if they are employed by you or by withdrawing facilities to practice.
• Handle patient complaints sensitively, empathising with the individual complaining and in conjunction with advice from your insurers.
• Do set up Google alerts for your practice name and all of your employees/clinicians so that if something is published about you online you are aware of it.
• Check NHS choices regularly to see if anyone has left a review about you. If it’s positive thank the reviewer, if it is negative apologise online and contact the person by phone (say you will be making contact by phone or ask them to contact the practice directly so you can resolve their complaint.

• Ignore a patient complaint made online, in writing or in person.
• Hide behind ‘no comment’ as a response to a patient complaint or a request from the media, it won’t stop anything negative being said about you and it doesn’t give your side of the story.
• Blame someone else for an issue, take responsibility for the here and now and put it right to the patients’ satisfaction.
• Assume any online complaint will go away if you ignore it, it won’t, it will be there forever more and not responding to it makes you look like you don’t care.
• Publish personal details or clinical details online, keep your response to an apology and an offer to resolve.
• Ignore whistleblowing, if something is going wrong in your practice the only way to protect your reputation is to take action swiftly to resolve the issue, admit the mistake and move on. People are much more likely to forgive and forget if you hold your hands up and fix the issue than if you have ignored it when you were told about it and done nothing.


Joanne Gill is director of GLR Public Relations, a PR agency specialising in the dental sector, and a former journalist.

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