Vet practice in a crisis? Here’s 5 things you can do…
We know how hard veterinary teams work to ensure animals receive the best of care. But in medicine, things don’t always go as planned. While you have to maintain client confidentiality, it often seems that a distressed owner can say exactly what they want – even if that’s not always based on an accurate understanding of what happened. Faced with a crisis unleashed on social media or in your local newspaper, what can you do? While every situation is different, here are a few suggestions:
- Talk to the animal owner – people are often less likely to be rude in person and it’s worth trying to listen, so they feel heard; explain what actually happened and any remedial action you have taken or will take in the future. Those calls are often not easy but can stop things escalating. If appropriate, a small gesture of flowers sent to the owner can help to express your compassion and empathy for their situation.
- Decide on how you will respond to any press enquiries. Ensure everyone knows who to refer press to in the practice and that they don’t make any comments in their own right, or get involved in social media debates. If you have already developed a positive relationship with press, either in-house or via an agency, ensure the contact knows all the details. They are likely to be the first people to be contacted and their positive relationship puts them in a good position to ensure you receive a fair hearing from an editor or journalist.
- Investigate and prepare a position statement. This is a crib sheet designed for internal use by your team and can be referred to in response to a media enquiry or even just to help with knowing what to say to a client who asks about the situation. You can agree what you will say and how you will say it up-front in a way that everyone is comfortable with, using non-inflammatory language. It may involve an expression of sympathy for the pet or owner or even an apology, if that is indicated. It also needs to be truthful and not attempt to hide the facts. You may want to include some information about what you have done to ensure the situation is never repeated (if that is even possible). Position statements are not generally meant to be read from word for word but rather used as a basis to respond, although you may want to base any written comments on the statement. You may also want to take the advice of your insurer or legal adviser before finalising your position statement.
- On social media you may want to consider temporarily disabling reviews on your practice Facebook page (find this in Settings – Templates and Tabs) and setting the profanity filter (found in Settings) to high. You can also add a client’s name or pet name to the list of banned words temporarily. Be prepared to block or ban people who post aggressively on social media, to support the wellbeing of your staff and your business. If required, you can also set Visitors Posts (also in Settings) to ‘Review visitors posts before publishing to the page’.
- Look after your own wellbeing and that of your staff. Keep an eye out for anyone who seems particularly distressed, especially if they appear to feel they deserve blame. Take steps to ensure they receive the support they need. If it’s too much to shoulder the burden alone, bring in expert help, whether that is from your insurer, legal adviser, or a PR agency like ours. We’re happy to provide initial informal advice or a listening ear, free of charge and as vets you know we’ll understand all aspects of your situation without you having to explain too much. Longer term, consider conducting regular meetings where mistakes or near misses are discussed and what you can do to prevent them. Remember that, no matter how painful you find this right now, like all things, this moment will eventually pass.