Breaking the Bad News

By December 17, 2014Blog

A dental practice is a business that has a salable commodity that people buy. Perhaps it sounds overly capitalistic to say it that way, but that’s the fact. Dental practices, for the most part, are not non-profits.

That said, most of a dental practice’s external communications are promotional, designed to attract the right new patients. And most of the internal communications are relational, meant to keep current patients coming back and referring.

There is a third type of communication that is often dismissed until a problem arises: crisis communications.

Every now and again, every business – every dental practice – faces a crisis, such as these:

Large-scale crisis, like the rehabilitation of one of its partners from the disease of addiction. (It happens more often than you might think. Listen to this thought-provoking podcast interview about healthcare providers recovering from addiction.) This type of crisis impacts the dentist, of course, as well as the team, the patients, and in many cases the whole community. Crisis communications are the only way to break the bad news with decorum.

Mid-scale crisis, such as a patient no-showing for an $11,000 one-time treatment. (This happened to a dentist friend of mine recently.) This type of crisis impacts the dentist, team and individual patient. Crisis communications may be needed on a one-to-one basis to correct the situation.

Small-scale crisis, like when a bad review of your practice pops up online. This type of crisis is easily corrected by encouraging more positive reviews, but in the short term, it affects the dentist and potential patients. Crisis communications may take the form of a publicly displayed online response from the dentists to the negative reviewer.

The key to crisis communications?

Break the bad news carefully.

Ideally, a dental practice has crisis communications prepared in advance of conflict. Crisis communications are crafted to protect the dental practice and its reputation. They guide the practice in sharing with the team, the patients and the community a limited view on what has happened and what solution they can expect.

In large-scale crises, it’s time to suspend all standard external and internal communications and use exclusively crisis communications. It may be beneficial to work with a public relations firm to draft just the right crisis communications.

In mid- and small-scale crises, it is more beneficial to use a mix of all three communication types. Continue all external and internal communications and use crisis communications as needed.

Develop your own crisis communications in advance so that the dental practice is prepared. Start by working with the team to list all potential mid- and small-scale crises. For each, imagine that the issue is being handled in a full waiting room of patients. Document the objective response provided for each scenario.

When it comes to breaking bad news, preparedness is critical.