May 2020

INSIDE THE PRACTICE

The two constants in every effective crisis strategy


by William Rabourn Jr.

The COVID-19 pandemic involving the novel SARS-CoV-2 has reminded us that in times of crisis, knee-jerk reactions are as common as the cold and just as catching. However, nothing is as detrimental to an ophthalmic practice or ambulatory surgery center as haphazard decisions.
It only takes one hasty reaction to send your business spiraling—and they tend to add up. Like Jenga blocks, pull one too quickly and the tower wavers. Pull another with the same haste and it can come with even bigger consequences. Instead of constantly reacting, ophthalmic businesses that devote time to developing and executing a flexible crisis plan can regain their footing more quickly once the crisis has passed, or even before.
No two businesses should share the exact same crisis plan. A national crisis like COVID-19 affects every business differently, and the way you deal with it should be directly tied to your unique situation. However, there are two elements that appear in every stabilizing crisis strategy: overcommunication and coordination.

Overcommunication

In a relatively stable business and social landscape, overcommunicating with patients, staff, or professional contacts (vendors, consultants, accountants, legal teams, referring doctors, etc.) can be off-putting and even drive away business. However, during a crisis, ramping up communication should be one of your first responses. More uncertainty means more questions from those who use your services or with whom you do business, usually pertaining to whether you will be able to continue reliably providing those services.
While every crisis will illicit its own set of questions, it is possible to plan ahead and prepare responses to some of the most basic questions. This alleviates some of the pressure on your already crisis-taxed team. By the way, it is OK for the answers to some of these questions to be, “We don’t know.” Unprecedented circumstances leave room for learning curves. What is important is that you are openly and honestly communicating that your business is working through the issue. People will remember how you spoke to them while you (and they, in the case of COVID-19) were at a low point. By preparing regular communication that is calm, concise, and upfront, you position the practice or ASC as a reliable medical leader. Not only does this help calm short-term fears, but it instills confidence in your business’ long-term success.

Patients will want to know:
• Is my eyecare provider still open for business? Are the hours of operation still the same?
• Are they providing their full services?
• If my provider is not currently providing the service I need, do they recommend any alternative ways to access this care?
• Do I need to reschedule my upcoming eye exam/appointment?
• What efforts is my provider taking to resolve the crisis? Or in the case of COVID-19, what have they done to protect me as a visiting patient?
• When can I expect regular services to resume?
Staff will want to know:
• How will we work together to resolve or weather this issue?
• How and why might my role within the practice change as a result of this crisis?
• Is my job secure? What is the business doing to protect employees financially?
• Are there resources available to help me as an employee if I lose my job because of this crisis?
Professional contacts will want to know:
• Is the practice still capable of honoring active contracts?
• If so, how is the practice working to ensure that remains the case?
• How will this crisis in the practice we do business with affect our own business?

Additionally, remember that communication is a two-way street. While you are informing these parties, be sure to reach out for input as well. Ask your patients about their concerns. Consult with your key doctors, nurses, technicians, and staff to both check on employee emotional health and gather opinions to form the crisis plan and evaluate its effectiveness. Finally, reach out to your professional connections. For example, during COVID-19, ask your consulting, accounting, or legal team for guidance and the latest updates on government-funded financial assistance. Ask consultants if you need help selecting the right combination of mediums (your website, social media, digital ads, print ads, etc.) to communicate your messages. While you may eventually find it necessary to drop or reduce programs to conserve funds, consider first asking if temporary renegotiation or delay of contracts or agreements is an option.
All of these actions may help you form a more effective crisis plan, while also fostering your current relationships. These people are valuable to your business. Treat them in a way that shows you are aware of that fact because you will need them just as much at the end of your crisis as you did before it.

Coordination

Regular day-to-day operations within an ophthalmic business will likely be impacted by the crisis, as many are seeing with COVID-19. Regular roles and responsibilities may shift as new priorities arise. A lack of clear coordination is what leads to chaos. Who should be doing what? Adjusting accordingly is crucial and may even include creating temporary (or permanent) new roles. For example, who will be in charge of the expanded communication efforts? Based on the number of your patients, employees, and professional contacts, is one person enough to coordinate this alone? Should it be done internally or outsourced? Use that input from your employees to identify areas of need and select the best person for the job.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is that every crisis has an end. Rely on a crisis strategy bolstered by communication and streamlined by coordination to endure. The more thoughtful you are in the choices you make for your business during a crisis and the less knee-jerk reactions you fall prey to, the stronger you will come out the other side.

About the author

William Rabourn Jr.
Founder and managing principal
Medical Consulting Group
Springfield, Missouri

Contact

Rabourn: brabourn@medcgroup.com

The two constants in every effective crisis strategy The two constants in every effective crisis strategy
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2020-05-04T12:28:21Z
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