'I hear you're open' - urgent guidance for your re-opening communications
Last night, along with the rest of the world, the dental profession discovered that they will be able to re-open on 8th June. This adds another ‘How not to do it' example to a growing catalogue of leadership and communication disasters that have characterised the pandemic guidance for dentists. There’s now a mix of excitement and trepidation about the return to work, not helped by the short timescale and the unqualified TV announcement to patients - 'dentists will be open on 8th June.'
I’d like to offer some rapid advice on what you need to do TODAY to get in front of this.
Firstly, get over it - I completely understand the anger, frustration and disappointment that the profession feel about the way they feel treated by government. But your patients don’t need to hear it. They’re looking to you to help them, and that’s the primary interest. So get over the need to tell people how hard it’s going to be for you to get ready to reopen. Keep your communication professional, authoritative and clear.
Here’s how I recommend you build your patient messages
Always, always lead with an acknowledgement of the patient’s problem. ‘I understand that this is very hard for you. I know that dental pain/discomfort etc is awful, and I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been suffering.' Help people to feel heard and understood.
Be very clear about what you are doing and why. Something like ‘We’re doing everything we can to get to all of our patients who need us just as soon as we can. We have a clear pandemic plan and additional protocols to follow. We will make sure that our re-opening is safe, effective and prioritises the most urgent needs. You will appreciate that after 10 weeks of closure, we have already been contacted by patients who are now in desperate need. We will prioritise the relief of pain and want to see everyone as soon as we can.’
A clear plan
This may be difficult to make precise, but you will be more successful in your messaging if you can give patients a plan, and even a first step. This might be making an appointment for a telephone triage, adding them to a list of waiting patients who will receive an update on a certain date etc. It might be that you give them a date when appointment bookings will reopen. The key thing is that the patient feels heard, trusts you know what you’re doing, and leaves the conversation knowing that they are ‘in the system’ and that you will get to them as soon as possible.
Steps to take
Get your message out today through every channel you have, and keep doing it over the next week. Social Media, newsletter, website, signage - everything you have. Use your social media over the next week to show how the team are preparing to reopen, and keep repeating the key messages - patient safety, limited capacity, prioritisation.
With the team, distill your message plan into some key bullets that staff can internalise. Get them to follow the three-step message - empathy, authority, plan - in all conversations and answering queries.
It is possible to get ahead of the deluge of enquiries you’ll now have, but you’ve got to move fast. Good luck!