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Bad Press? You’re a Doctor… Spin It!

Bad Press? You’re a Doctor… Spin It!


Posted on 11/22/2018 by Angela SpinksAngela Spinks

We often hear that there is no such thing as “bad” press. The fact that someone is talking about you at all is considered a good thing, right? It can place you in the spotlight for a fleeting moment and give you the opportunity to right a wrong. Misfortune may befall, and mistakes will be made. The fallout is usually brief; it’s how you deal with it can help you win friends and influence others.

There have always been forums for patients to voice complaints and, of course, regulatory bodies for serious claims. But in today’s culture of sharing the most mundane of activities and trivial opinions on social media, the exposure is magnified. People are increasingly post-happy, looking to provoke controversy in search of their 15 minutes of fame.

Within this climate, it is only prudent to develop a plan for damage control. Like back-up and recovery of your data in the event of cybercrime or catastrophe, reputation management requires an ounce of prevention.

Essentially, it’s the patient experience itself that becomes your best risk mitigator. One of the wisest things you and your team can do is ask for patient feedback after each appointment. Did we meet your expectations? Is there anything we could improve to make you more satisfied? Especially if your team has tracked the patient’s appointment in your practice management software and has used the information in real time to smooth out any glitches, feedback is valuable.

Post-appointment surveys can be even more effective; they open lines of communication and keep you top-of-mind. They provide an equal opportunity for positive feedback which can be used (with permission) as a testimonial. A survey also opens the door to ask for referrals. The important thing is to ask for feedback and make it easy for your patients to give it.

In the case of a clinical error or unfortunate outcome, you would likely be immediately aware of the situation and able to work with your patient towards resolution. In the case of dissatisfaction with service or other issues, however, you may never have the opportunity for direct communication. And either case could go viral before you even break for lunch.

For a business, receiving a complaint – or worse, reading about one directed at your practice – can be shocking. The natural first reaction is emotional: we get angry, insulted, defensive. Some respond by immediately firing back an angry tweet.

Don’t do that. Instead:

  1. Give it time. In 24 hours, emotions will fade, and you can focus on facts. Make sure that your staff is aware of this advice.
  2. Assemble your facts. If warranted, involve relevant staff. Use your practice management software history for details. Make the exercise about fact-finding, not blame-seeking.
  3. Respond to your challenger using the same channel. Thank the patient for taking the time to communicate. “Your feedback helps us understand and address how patients perceive our service.”
  4. There is usually no need to apologize. “We are sorry you feel that way.” is a good way to validate feelings without accepting fault.
  5. Depending on the patient and the complaint, you might consider inviting the person to contact you directly to offer their perspective for improvement.
  6. Again, depending on the patient and the complaint, a personal phone call might be warranted, instead of or in addition to the above.
  7. Finally, there are situations where you are best advised to simply defer to your lawyer.

It seems unjust that one negative incident can outweigh the scores of positive interactions and examples of exceptional service you provide on a daily basis. Alas, the rule of asymmetrical rewards can apply in dentistry as much as in any customer-facing company.

Here is some food for thought to address the imbalance:

  • It is healthy to acknowledge your feelings. Criticism stings. Any Psychologist – and any mother – will assure you that “Nobody’s perfect” and “You can’t please everybody all of the time”. In fact, the principle of the pratfall effect validates the idea that infallibility is endearing. Flaws can make an individual more likable and less intimidating.
  • You – and your practice – have supporters. In the event of bad press, you may discover loyal patients inspired to voluntarily rally to your defence. I described in a recent post some of the steps you can take to improve your Facebook and social media presence… asking for testimonials is one of them. Let the occasional negative item get lost in a sea of praise. And the more digital presence you create, the more search engine prominence gets placed on space you control.
  • Remember the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, also known as the Pygmalion effect. It’s helpful to keep this principle in mind so that you – and your staff – do not allow a minor complaint to build out of proportion.
  • Finally, count on the spotlight effect. Although an overblown bad review about a trivial matter can still seem earth shattering, the fact is that in most cases, an isolated bit of bad press is not noticed as much as we think.

I am not a Psychologist, but I am a mother, and I learned from the best. I also found inspiration and data for this post in an article by Rebekah Bernard in Medical Economics, and another by Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer. When it comes to the power of positive thinking, I’ll take the half-full glass every time. Cheers!


Angela SpinksAngela Spinks
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