Creating a business continuity plan to support your practice’s survival

man explaining business continuity planSuki Singh explores how to create a robust business continuity plan.

Like car or home insurance, having a business continuity plan is something you hope to never have to use. However, in the event of some kind of crisis or disaster, it can be invaluable in helping you find the way forward.

A crisis can take many forms, financial, personal, natural disaster, technological, etc. But regardless of the specifics, it’s important that you don’t neglect thinking ahead. Put a plan in place to help your business make it through in both the short and long-term.

No doubt with the recent outbreak of coronavirus, this has been on the mind of many dental practice owners. While dealing with the present circumstances, they will still need to keep one eye on the future.

Whether you have a plan in place and found it lacking when it was needed to implement or you have not yet written a plan, below are some things to consider including.

Identify and assess risks

Think about any potential risks to the practice, both in terms of personnel and the clinical side of things. Each of these risks also needs to be assessed in terms of whether it is low, medium or high. You also need to consider the impact it could have and the plan to deal with it should it become reality. Risks that are critical to the business, those that will have a huge impact immediately, should be highlighted.

Identifying risks in advance and having a plan to minimise the consequences means that, should they happen, you will feel prepared and be able to prioritise. In turn, this will help you to manage the situation more effectively and with as little stress as possible.

Key contact list

It’s worthwhile including a list of internal and external contacts you may need in the event of a disaster.

Your internal list needs to include all staff and ideally, both their mobile number and email. If any staff members have specific roles to fulfil as part of the business’ response to a disaster it can be worth detailing that here (even if that role is simply to call the relevant emergency services).

The external list can include any third-party organisations or people that you may need to get in touch with. Examples include the emergency services, energy suppliers, providers of drugs or products, insurers, and the relevant departments of your local Primary Care Trust.

Disaster recovery for IT

IT infrastructure is integral to running a business. If yours is compromised or destroyed, it will be important to know what steps you need to take. For example, how you would access patient records? Or how would you know what appointments were booked in if you exclusively use online systems?

The specifics of this will obviously depend on the nature of your IT infrastructure, whether you are regularly backing up internally, still use a pen and paper approach for some things, or outsource these services to a managed data centre.

Part of your business continuity plan should contain a plan for finding an alternative to processes that would normally be done using your IT systems. As well as steps to restore your infrastructure as soon as you can, if that’s possible. The idea is to try and cover all the options.

Assign responsibilities

State who has overall responsibility for carrying out the plan. You will also need a chain of delegation. This is in the event that the named person is incapacitated in some way and unable to fulfil their responsibilities. State who that role would fall to. If they were then incapacitated who it would fall to, and so on.

Patient communication

If the practice is affected to the point where you can no longer provide the usual range of services, need to close or change your regular opening hours, or you need to cancel or postpone appointments, it will be vital that you effectively communicate with your patients.

It is therefore important to have a process for who would take the lead on this. The details of how they would then do so, ie by email, letter, social media, and whether some patients may need to be prioritised, would depend on the nature of the crisis and the kind of impact it has had on the practice. However, the person identified as taking the lead will understand from the plan that it is their responsibility to choose the best way forward.

Changes to treatments and services

In the event that the crisis or disaster impacts the kind of/amount of services you can offer, a person should be identified who will make the decision as to which should be discontinued or reduced. It is worth noting any third-party organisations that should also be informed of any such changes, for example, NHS England.

There are, of course, other items you can include in a business continuity plan. These include loss of utilities, closure of premises, etc. The above are just some of the things that are worth including when you are creating this kind of document.

Once you have a plan in place it is important to regularly review and assess what it contains.

It is also key to make sure all of your team are familiar with the plan with access to it. A copy of the plan can be given out during staff inductions, refreshed as part of training (you may even want to do some kind of disaster simulation) and kept in a place where it is readily available.

A business continuity plan is something you hope to never have to use. But if you do have to use it, you’ll be glad you spent the time to get it right.

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