There used to be a time when patients had respect for you. They followed directions in the chair, listened to your post-op instructions with rapt attention, and acted well-mannered and appreciative of you and your team.
Granted, the last time that happened may have been 1957. But at some point, the world was civil and polite. Those days are over. Today, you get to contend with a parade of “special” patients.
“Karen” walks boldly into your office sans mask, despite the pre-appointment instructions to wear one. When your front desk politely explains that all patients must wear a face covering, she starts loudly demanding to see the doctor, shouting at your front desk that you are violating her civil rights.
You can’t force her to wear a mask because this pandemic is just a hoax anyway, she says. Another patient in your reception room starts filming the entire debacle on their phone and posts it to Twitter minutes later. We all dream of going viral on social media, but for the love of Pete, not like this.
Then, there are the Vaccination Hall Monitors. These busybodies call your practice asking if everyone in the office has been vaccinated. They want to see proof of vaccination, and when your front desk explains that she can’t reveal your team’s HIPAA protected medical information, the Hall Monitor starts lecturing her on how you are putting patients’ lives at unnecessary risk.
The Vaccination Hall Monitor then cancels her appointment in a self-righteous huff and quickly hops on her local moms Facebook group to publicly shame your office, believing she is doing a public service by protecting the general population, who clearly can’t make an informed decision without her.
Last but not least are the Easily Offended. We’ve all met them. They judge the SUV you drive and declare that you’re personally responsible for destroying the environment. Heaven forbid you challenge their statement that they inherited soft teeth from their parents. They even get offended on behalf of other patients.
There is zero ownership of their own behavior. Just constant judgement of everything you do. The Easily Offended are the worst of the three, because they love to rally other Easily Offended people into slandering your practice on Google or Facebook, despite the fact that none of these other snowflakes have set foot in your office.
Frankly, I will take a day full of Helicopter Moms over these characters every single time.
While you can’t avoid our special friends entirely, there are a few things you can do that will lighten their impact on your sanity, your mood, and your online reputation.
Nobody knows if the next person on the schedule is going to be a Karen, so check your script to make sure that you are clear and direct about your masking protocol with all current and new patients. If you live in a state that has yet to lift mask mandates, it’s completely okay to explain that as a healthcare professional, you are obligated to follow Department of Health guidelines as laid out by your state or local government.
Even if masks aren’t being enforced locally but you’d like them to be used in your office, explain that as a science based professional, it’s important to you to protect all patients. Be sure to include a policy reminder in your text message or email confirmation, and then just to be crystal clear, post a sign at the entrance of your building that masks are required.
Like a naughty child, Karen has very intentionally walked into your practice without a mask, knowing full well that she’s doing something wrong. Her goal is to get a reaction. If you match her fiery temper, she will have gotten exactly what she was hoping for—a reason to fight.
Instead, deal with her just like you would an irrational toddler who is overdue for a nap. Be calm, clear, and rational, and don’t debate her. Calmly walk her to the door and back to her car. The calmer you are, the more infuriated she will be. But you will look all the more professional for it.
If a patient has still filmed the encounter and decided to post it online, it’s time to be proactive. Grab your phone and record a quick video. Tell your audience that you just had a patient who did not care for your mask policy, but this gave you a good reminder to explain just why you have the policy in the first place—to protect the viewer, your patient.
Once it’s posted, text a few friends who are patients already and ask them to comment on the video. You want that groundswell of support to build quickly so that if Karen’s video goes viral and the general public comes to your social media pages, you’re already one step ahead of the situation.
Control the Narrative
There are two ways to address those pesky Vaccination Hall Monitors, and it entirely depends on your vaccination status. If you and your entire team felt it was important to get vaccinated, this is marketing gold. Gather everyone together for a photo (masks on!) and share the message that your office got vaccinated because you always put your patients’ health first. Send it to your entire email list and post it on your social channels.
Many teams have not reached 100% vaccination status, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You just need to get ahead of the Hall Monitors by shifting the narrative. This is an opportunity to shoot a video that shows all new and prospective patients everything you are doing to keep patients safe.
Show your team wiping down a treatment room before a visit, doing an elbow bump to greet a patient, using a 6-foot stick to keep distance from each other, and so forth. It’s important to have a little fun and exaggerate what you’re doing so it makes the point that you’re going above and beyond. Send it via email to your entire list, post it on social, add it to your website, and then make it part of your standard new patient email or text confirmation protocol.
If a Hall Monitor still asks about your vaccination status, simply redirect the conversation.
Patient: “I want to come to your office, but only if everyone is vaccinated.”
Front office: “I’m so glad you asked about what we’re doing to keep our patients safe! This is a huge priority for us. Let me get your cell number so I can text you a link to a video that explains everything.”
You didn’t answer her question, but you are still giving her information that should allay her fears. And if it still doesn’t make her feel better, let her know that there’s a strong connection between periodontal disease and severe COVID-19, so your schedule has been packed lately. If she wants to wait, it could be months until you get her on the schedule again. 😉
Before she calls you out on that moms group on Facebook, it’s ideal to have a current patient share their experience in the group proactively, talking up everything you are doing to protect the community from transmission. It’s far better to get ahead of this message than it is to defend yourself to the self-righteous.
Let the Fire Burn Out
The Easily Offended can be nearly impossible to protect yourself against proactively, because nobody knows what will set them off on any given day—the plastic water bottles you hand out, an accidental mispronunciation of their last name, or a joke that was taken the wrong way.
The Easily Offended typically suffer from anxiety and have an abnormal desire for control. They believe that their version of the truth is literally the only option, because they can’t stomach the vulnerability that comes from admitting they might be wrong.
As much as you may want to defend yourself from their criticism, it’s more productive to ask this person to expand on their point of view. This will give them a feeling of control. There’s nothing saying you have to act on what they said.
I learned a long time ago that there is no harm in letting another person believe they are right. It calms them down and helps you build trust with this patient for the future. You may not be able to control what they are offended by, but you can definitely control your response.
If It Gets Ugly
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes, and social media regularly proves that point.
Let’s say Karen, a Hall Monitor, or the Easily Offended have decided to launch a defamatory attack on your business reputation. Often this involves rallying their social media friends into a self-righteous attack on your business, whether or not they know you.
This type of attack spreads quickly, so do not wait. Go to Facebook and Twitter and temporarily deactivate your business page. Don’t worry. This does not delete the account. You have 30 days to republish your page, and by then the fire will have burned out and your attackers will have found a new victim.
If you are targeted on Google, send a friendly but firm, non-threatening email to anyone who incorrectly maligns your business, explaining that the defamatory content they have posted is incorrect. Provide the author (or reviewer) with correct information and explain that these inaccurate comments will hurt you financially.
It’s fine to include a subtle implication that ongoing slander will have to be addressed with your attorney. Be specific in telling them to delete their original content. Posting a retraction is useless, because a Google search will inevitably position the slanderous comment above the retraction due to the amount of interest it has had.
If the review is not removed within 24 to 48 hours, you can respond with this: “This statement is 100% false and we have reached out to try and provide accurate information. Unfortunately the author is unwilling to remove their defamatory comments so we regretfully have no choice but to pursue this matter in the courts.”
In the meantime, flag the slanderous reviews and tell Google what type of violation they are. This is not new to Google. Its content reviewers will see the sudden onslaught of comments and typically remove most if not all of them. And then, get out the vote. Ask every patient you see to help you out with a positive review. They will be on your side, guaranteed.
Nobody Expects You to Be a Saint
It can be exhausting to pander to these people. I know. At least take comfort in knowing their behavior is not exclusive to dentistry. It happens in every industry. However, avoid venting to your team. It’s unprofessional and endorses a negative environment.
Save the eye rolling, deep sighs, and screams of frustration for the safety of your car, your spouse, or even the bottom of a bottle of wine. I won’t judge. These characters have done enough of that for the both of us.
Ms. Winans is Golden Proportions Marketing’s owner, president, resident visionary, and lead strategist. She brings decades of real world experience to dental marketing, ensuring that the marketing solutions she and her team develop are both creative and easy for dental offices to execute. Golden Proportions Marketing provides turnkey full services marketing solutions for private practices, group practices, and small to midsize DSOs. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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