By Nancy Wulz
The 2015 outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by a Minnesota dentist folded a successful dental practice within 24 hours and turned the owner into an international outcast.
In 2017, a pseudo-dentist in Florida, previously put on probation for impersonating a dentist and providing dental services without a license, was arrested for sexually assaulting two of his female patients, among other things.
Today, dental practice owners, managers, and administrators need to be more keenly aware of their standings as highly visible and newsworthy public figures. They need to have crisis management plans in place to protect their practices.
Events out of your control and beyond the scope of your practice can damage your hard-earned reputation and receive media scrutiny and public attention that can impact your dental practice. Knowing how to handle these types of events should be part of your asset protection strategy.
What Issues Are Dental Practices Facing?
Most successful dentists incorrectly assume that any exposure or negative publicity will be limited to issues surrounding their practice itself. Unfortunately, that's not the only case. A review of news reports that cite medical practitioners and administrators being sued, arrested, or investigated encompasses a broad spectrum and, and in some cases, extends to family members and employees. The media loves to include, "A prominent local dentist (or business owner, practice owner, etc.) was charged with…"
Guilty by Association? Trust is Everything
Like any medical specialty, dentistry is a trust-based profession. Most people are skittish about undergoing any dental procedure, and many patients feel vulnerable the moment they sit in the chair. They must trust that you won’t hurt them while effectively solving their problems.
Recently, a Wisconsin dentist was charged with health care fraud after being accused of using his drill to intentionally break patients' teeth so he could cap them and bill their insurance company.
Of course, most dentists are ethical professionals and wouldn't perform unnecessary treatment or gouge on price. However, a small but disturbing number of bad actors are dishonest and repeatedly abuse patients' trust. They exploit their authority by cheating trusting patients with useless and often painful treatment and shady billing practices. That said, it's clear that trust is a critical component of the dentist/patient relationship. Anything that tarnishes a dentist's reputation undermines that trust.
When it comes to choosing a dentist, character counts. In an American Dental Association survey, 69% of people specified they were more likely to opt for an ADA member the next time they were in the market for a dentist. Patients indicated they appreciate the "patient-first" promise that ADA dentists make as part of the association's code of ethics.
Invest time interacting with members of your community to establish yourself as a trusted figure in your field. The most powerful marketing strategy to grow a professional reputation is word-of-mouth referrals. In fact, Nielsen reports that 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends more than any other form of advertising.
Put Your Dental Marketing in "Protect" Mode
The rapid rate at which information spreads can quickly send your reputation into a downward spiral. An effective crisis management plan is about preventing fires, not just putting them out. While you hope you never have to deal with a PR crisis, here are some tips to help you respond to a negative situation.
- Be ready and react quickly with a positive follow-up. Use direct mail email newsletter to share positive information regarding your practice, as well as educate your patients, reassuring them that the negative press doesn't represent your practice's values. You can also consider positive social media campaigns and videos.
- Influence patients' perceptions and build creditworthiness through “thought leadership” — educate, inform, offer free advice.
- Be mindful of tone and authenticity. It's not all about what you say but how you say it. Deliver your message with clarity and be genuine.
- Consider partnering with specialized dental reputation management experts skilled at finding positive reviews, emphasizing your attributes, highlighting testimonials about your dental practice, and bringing them to the forefront of the web.
Build Your Reputation and Earn Trust with a Social Media Presence
According to an Oral Health Group survey, three out of four patients specified their reason for being loyal to a dentist is trust. However, building trust is a process that requires many touchpoints.
One of the best ways to touch prospective patients is through social media. You can personalize your messages, connect with patients, reach out to them beyond the time in your chair. Your “thought leadership” (e.g., blog posts, Facebook and Instagram posts, YouTube videos) can and should focus on creating a relationship of trust between you and your prospects.
When you go out of your way to communicate better, help, and engage with patients outside of regular appointments, it consistently reaffirms that your practice is credible and trustworthy. This trust breeds loyalty, which in turn motivates patients to spread positive reviews about your practice online and through word of mouth.
Author: Nancy Wulz is a freelance marketing professional with 10+ years of agency experience working with marketing teams to create and execute digital content strategy.