Are Your Doctors Top Docs?

Follow this Process

Top Doctors rankings appear in many regional lifestyle magazines across the country. Here in the Philadelphia area, Philadelphia Magazine features the area’s best practitioners annually, in the May issue. But what’s behind the Top Doctors ratings, and should you be nominating your own physicians?

The short answer is yes. Having multiple Top Doctors from your organization populating the local list delivers cachet to your practice or health system. It says, “our doctors have excellent training and clinical skills, and give superior care and concern to their patients,” and that can be valuable from a reputation management standpoint. Publications that run them online frequently link to their full contact information, and their pictures often appear in print, sometimes on the cover. Some publications archive the best doctors on a searchable online database.

Of course, Top Doctors is also an advertising opportunity, as organizations can extend their honored doctors’ visibility with paid congratulatory notes, expanded doctor profiles or, in the case of Philadelphia Magazine, Q&As or first-person doctor essays. A news release highlighting the organization’s multitude of honorees is yet another option. And social media posts, e-newsletters, and magazine reprints highlighting the honored doctors can extend the life of the list even further.

A Straightforward Process

Unlike some other Best of Lists (e.g. Best Pizza Place, Best Spa) frequently found in these regional publications, Top Doctors are not voted for by readers. Rather, they are often supplied by a third party organization called Castle Connolly, whose only mission is to publish lists and books ranking healthcare professionals. Publications like Philadelphia Magazine subscribe to the service.

According to the Castle Connolly website:

“Physicians can nominate those other doctors whom they feel are the most outstanding in their medical specialties, in any area of medicine and in any part of the country, indicating also whether they believe that the physician is among the best in their region or among the very best in the nation. Also, already-selected Castle Connolly Top Doctors are actively encouraged through various communications to participate in this process as well.”

Doctors are peer-nominated, and cannot nominate themselves. Any licensed MD and DO can submit nominations, in several dozen categories based on specialty. The good news is nominations are free, as are resulting listings in the company’s guides.

The nomination form is exhaustive, requiring detailed biographical information of the doctor. The Castle Connolly team evaluates nomination based on “medical education, training, board certifications, hospital appointments, administrative posts, professional achievements and malpractice and disciplinary history.” Often, they will interview the nominated doctor too.

Castle Connolly’s nomination process is open year-round, and doctors can be selected and recognized on the company’s various websites throughout the year, but you will have to wait until the next Top Doctors issue of your local magazine to see your honored physicians in print. It pays to be mindful of deadlines and editorial calendars, to reduce the lag time between nomination and reaping the benefits of a recognized doctor.

Streamlining Your Top Doctors Nominations

It might also be worthwhile to designate one physician or administrator in your organization to spearhead the nomination process. That might entail polling each department for potential nominees, and choosing a peer or the department head to complete the form. Alternatively, your designated staffer might handle the entire process, from choosing nominees to interviewing the individual to filling out the form. In either case, it is best to have a central “clearing house” through which to submit nominations, and to serve as a single point of contact for Castle Connolly.

For healthcare consumers, Top Doctors has become a reliable way of finding the best practitioners in a given geographic area. The imprimateur lends credibility to a practice, and can alert prospective patients to the existence of a doctor they may not have known about. The annual list also provides another opportunity for a practice or health system to stand out from its competitors. So take a look at your organization’s high performing physicians and get nominating!

How to Write an Obituary: Preparing a Lasting Tribute

A Good Obituary Remembers the Living as Well as Those Lost

At times in our professional careers – and in our personal lives – we may be called upon to craft an obituary for a professional acquaintance, colleague, friend or loved one.

As a communications consulting firm, we have worked with hospice clients in developing appropriate guidelines for such sensitive messages. In addition, we occasionally are asked to put together such tributes on behalf of a company executive, board member or respected volunteer who has passed.

It can be a daunting challenge – where to start?

Contemplating one simple question can serve as a practical starting point:  How would you like to be remembered?

At its most fundamental level, an obituary serves several functions. It’s a notification that someone has passed. It’s an account of the life they’ve lived, as well as the range of people whose lives they’ve touched – not only extended family but special friends, acquaintances and others. It also provides important news and directions for planned services or funeral arrangements. Sometimes it can contain special thanks to caregivers or friends who were there in a time of need. It might also be an opportunity to suggest where charitable donations can be given in a loved one’s memory.

Moving Beyond the Basic

Still, at its best, an obituary is a tribute to a life well-lived and a person well-loved.

Remember that you’re not just reporting information. You’re telling the story of someone’s life. Of course to do that, you’ll need to gather basic information.

By talking with loved ones you should be able to get the basics: age, occupation, education, military service, where they were born, places they lived.

Try to get an appreciation of their lives by looking through different lenses. What were their interests? What sports or hobbies did they enjoy? What about community involvement or faith-based activity?  What charity events did they promote or support? What were their most important or impressive accomplishments?

Adding Some Color

Instead of a formal interview, you may find that family members or friends will respond better in more relaxed conversations. Give them time to think and reminisce in an informal, comfortable setting. Get them to tell interesting stories about their interactions with the loved one who has passed. The goal is to give readers insights into what made that person special. Maybe it’s a special trait of character like a short fuse or a sense of humor that brings a smile to a loved ones’ face. Maybe they’ll talk about the individual’s sense of modesty, community-mindedness, generosity, love of travel and so on.

With those memories as your palette, try to paint a word picture of who this person was and what they meant to the world, their friends and their loved ones. Don’t just say that so-and-so was a good person. Show the reader by describing their interactions and the energy they put into those aspects of their lives they held most important.

As you round out the obituary, you’ll need to determine which family members to include – those who preceded them in death, as well as surviving relatives and other loved ones. How far back does the family want to go? Be extra careful about accidentally omitting people: grandparents (both sides, living as well as deceased), step-families, aunts and uncles, significant others, and of course, children, grandchildren and more, if needed.

Remember that those who are giving you information for the obituary have lots of other things on their mind. Be extra careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings with an unintended omission. Finally, find out if there is a specific charity or other cause the family wants to single out for memorial donations.

Adapting to Fit the Need

Consider creating several different versions/lengths for the obituary – a short one for a paid ad, and a longer one that could be used as a handout at the eulogy or funeral service. Check with your local newspaper for appropriate publishing lengths. With genealogy so popular, you might consider an even longer one to offer some family history, or to post on a website.

Also, make sure to proofread the finished work. Better yet, have a family member or other knowledgeable person review the finished copy for accuracy and completeness.

Dealing with Unfortunate Realities

Finally, keep in mind that, unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people in this world who look to prey on the vulnerable. Be careful about including information that might be used for identity theft, or that might make someone vulnerable for exploitation. Depending where you live, you may want to avoid identifying the address of the surviving spouse, or even the time of the funeral, as would-be burglars sometimes scan obituaries so they can target what they think will be an unwatched house.

The bottom line: be compassionate, be complete, but also be careful.

Published October 24, 2017 by Spryte Communications in Public Affairs

When a Patient Becomes a Cause

Chart a Course of Compassion, Professionalism

The recent, heartbreaking story of Charlie Gard, the U.K. infant whose parents battled to keep him on life support and seek experimental treatment for his genetic disorder in the U.S., over the objection of his doctors, highlights an issue that all healthcare organizations need to think about.

“What happens when our patient becomes a cause célèbre?”

Wikipedia defines “cause célèbre” as “an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases.” Sometimes, the célèbre part becomes literal, with celebrities voicing opinions on one side or the other.

In the case of little Charlie, everyone from Donald Trump to Cher to Pope Francis weighed in to either offer assistance to the family or implore the hospital to bend to the wishes of the parents. There was massive public pressure on an institution that sincerely believed they were making the best medical decision given the circumstances – and which was no doubt concerned about their legal liability should the baby die when removed from their premises.

This kind of wellspring of sentiment, public opinion and media coverage is, fortunately, rare. But even stories that don’t generate words from world leaders or pop icons can become maelstroms at the local or regional level should word get out that a patient or their family is being “denied” free will or certain rights by a hospital, particularly where end-of-life is concerned. And usually, it’s the family – or one member – purposely trying to support their cause when they clash with the hospital or another relative. Telling your tale of perceived oppression to a TV reporter can be a powerful way to influence public opinion…and exert pressure on the other party.

When the “Correct” Thing isn’t the Popular Thing

When this happens, healthcare organizations need to tread lightly. Aside from navigating HIPAA rules on patient confidentiality, communications staff must deal with the natural human belief that we all have final authority over our personal health, or that of our children. Then there’s the legal aspect: doing the morally “correct” thing may be in opposition to legal requirements. For example, the compassionate move may be to take a patient who is virtually brain dead off life support, but the patient may have an advance directive prohibiting it, or in the absence of one, family advocates opposing it.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was in a persistent vegetative state, her husband and legal guardian sought to remove her from life support while her parents fought to prolong her life artificially. Prolonged legal battles, with the hospital and Schiavo’s doctors as key witnesses, caused a seven-year delay before her feeding tube was ultimately removed in 2005. Her name remains a flash point for patient and spousal rights.

The Eye of the Storm

So what to do when there’s a clash among family, or between family and hospital that becomes public? While each case will be different, here are some basics to bear in mind:

  • Designate a single spokesperson for the hospital or organization, but be careful in your choice. An executive might come off as more concerned with preserving reputation than the good of the patient or family, while the treating physician can credibly fall back on what’s best clinically in the circumstances. Think long and hard before trotting out a lawyer to speak for the organization.
  • Remember HIPAA. Talking specifics of a particular patient’s care is a no-no, even if the family is going in front of every reporter they can find. Limit comments to policy, protocol, and information already published elsewhere.
  • Expect fallout, and be ready for it. One of the best ways to defend your organization amid a public hue and cry is to demonstrate that you are adhering to standard procedures and protocols, and there’s nothing different or personal in the case at hand. The public needs to see that your organization acts legally and professionally, even if they disagree with your stance.
  • Be available. Despite the heat, offer opportunities for the media to have their questions answered, either one-on-one or during a press conference. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
  • Stay off social media. There’s little to be gained, and much to lose with a misstep, by posting or tweeting in a sensitive situation. However do share any public statements you’ve issued after you’ve disseminated them by other, more traditional means.
  • Know when to fold ‘em. Sometimes, a story will wane after a news cycle or two, or when the public gets consumed by something else. Don’t proactively reignite it through unsolicited statements. If courts are involved, don’t go out with news of even favorable rulings, but be prepared with a statement if the media seek you out.

Things can get highly charged when a controversial patient comes through your door or emotion clashes with clinical care. No institution wants to be in a volatile situation, but if a patient does become a cause, level heads and a reliance on existing protocols will keep you on the high ground.

When Employees Behave Badly

Avert Crisis with Preparedness

There’s an old saying that the only things that are absolutely certain are death and taxes.

Close behind is the reality that forms the basis for Murphy’s Law: sooner or later, despite our best efforts, something is going to go wrong, and we’ll have to answer for it, or at least explain it in a satisfactory manner.

Bad online reviews can dampen business, and should be dealt with promptly (as covered in a previous blog) to mitigate the ill effects. A significant error or lawsuit can become a major news story, depending on the circumstances.

Then there’s the human factor. Employees saying things they shouldn’t under the auspices of the organization, or worse, physicians or employees behaving badly. Whether it’s a misguided social media post, a verbal smack-down or physical altercation caught on camera, or a criminal act, you need to act quickly to minimize the impact on the organization and move toward mending public perception.

People Behaving Badly

Take the case of a national home care agency, with thousands of employees offering wonderful, compassionate care to their clients and making a difference in thousands of lives each day. Alas, like every industry, there are a few employees who shouldn’t be in their roles, who lack integrity, or don’t respect the trust they’ve been given.

When news broke that an employee – or in this case an independent contractor working as a caregiver – had stolen cash and jewelry from a client’s home, SPRYTE had to dust off the crisis communications playbook. The arrest, including perp walk, made local television news in the city where it occurred, and had the potential to spread beyond, as negative news often does. The franchise office which contracted the caregiver was facing blowback, and even other nearby franchises that had nothing to do with the incident were fielding calls of concern from clients and were asking for help.

Have a Plan, Then Work It

Every organization should have a crisis communications plan, with some basic steps. Of course, these will evolve or change with specific circumstances, but generally, you’ll want to designate a single spokesperson, develop talking points, and establish a means of providing timely, accurate information to those affected and other contingencies. Here are some specific steps to think about when the crisis involves the actions of an employee:

  • Assess the situation. See how it is being reported, and how widely. Is it a one-and-done story or does it have “legs” to carry it through more than a single news cycle? Are other outlets picking it up? Is the incident ranking high in online searches of the company name? In our sample case, we learned one television station ran the story on air and on its website, and that was the extent of it. It appeared near the top of a Google News search, but was several pages down on a general Google search.
  • Create talking points for various audiences. Limit this to the facts you know, and include mitigating information if there is any. SPRYTE learned that the victim of the theft didn’t even want to report her suspicions to the police because she liked the caregiver so much, and that it was the agency itself that encouraged her to contact the authorities. This kind of proactivity shows the company is ethical and trustworthy, even if the employee wasn’t. Also, we included the point that this was a 1099 contractor, not a regular employee, while acknowledging that to the public and clients, that distinction is meaningless.
  • Empower your managers. Since this was a local-level story, we briefed the franchise owner on how to answer questions that might come up, from either the media or clients’ families. Essentially, she was prepped to be the front-line representative for the company. We also shared separate talking points with neighboring offices.
  • Brainstorm all scenarios. Come up with a list of “what-ifs” addressing all eventualities so you or your front-line staff are ready for them. In this case, we created a table with the headings “If this happens” and “We’ll do this” and listed potential issues and how to react. Sometimes, the response was as simple as “refer the reporter to the corporate office, which will respond per the talking points.”

 

As Gene Kranz, the NASA flight director immortalized in Apollo 13, memorably said, “Let’s work the problem. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” Take the time to gather all the relevant information, then monitor the situation and respond with facts, not conjecture. By being transparent, and addressing the concerns of your publics in a timely and accurate manner, you’ll go a long way toward minimizing the damage to your organization’s reputation.

“And Doctor of the Year Goes To…”

Exploiting Awards to Boost Reputation

Awards programs can be powerful tools to generate positive press – and much goodwill – for the practitioners in your healthcare organization, and possibly the organization itself. Just about every local business or regional lifestyle publication has a “Top Docs” feature, or recognitions for “Top Hospitals” or “Best Places to Work.”

To capitalize, it helps to plan ahead. By creating a calendar of opportunities suitable for your organization, paying special attention to deadlines, you’ll be able to stay atop these programs and plan your nominations in advance. For institutional awards, you can mobilize your workforce to provide testimonials or vote.

When entering, it’s vital to follow the online nomination instructions fully, and pay particular attention to the narrative portion, usually the crux of your submission.

Heroes of Healthcare

SPRYTE recently spearheaded a regional health system’s nominations for NJBIZ magazine’s “Healthcare Heroes” award. Categories included Hospital of the Year, Educator of the Year, Public Health Hero and several others. We focused on the Physician, Nurse, and Volunteer of the Year categories.

We put out the call for prospective nominees, and the client came back with three excellent choices. After nailing down the particulars of each candidate, we set about writing the narratives which, again, would make or break our entries.

Here are some things to keep in mind, based on SPRYTE’s long experience and track record of awards success on behalf of our healthcare clients:

  • Don’t hold back. Sometimes the essays must be brief, but we had up to 1,000 words to make our case. There will be much to say about any good nominee, so take full advantage of the space provided.
  •  Interview the candidate personally. If you rely on their CV, your submission will sound it and likely fail to garner attention. Find out what makes them tick, the “why” behind the “what.” Why did he or she choose that field, or job? Who (or what) influenced them? Get anecdotes illustrating their compassion, service and empathy. Tell a story.
  •  Provide the whole picture. Your candidate might be a great doc/nurse/teacher, but there are lots of those. What does yours do outside of patient work to benefit the community and humanity? In the end, you need to answer the question, “Why is this practitioner deserving of this award above all others?”
  •  Interview your nominee’s colleagues. At the very least, speak to the person who nominated them, or a direct supervisor. They had a reason for choosing that person. Find out why. Consider including a direct quote in the narrative.
  •  Don’t forget references. Sometimes awards forms require one or more. These can be the nominator, a supervisor, an executive of the organization, a professional colleague, or a patient. Let the references know you’re including them and prep them in case they are contacted.
  •  Don’t Compete Against Yourself: Keep nominations one per category.
  •  Enlist your patients and staff. Rally the troops, especially for organizational awards like Best Places to Work. Use internal communications, social media and e-blasts requesting testimonials, and include a link to comment or vote. Some of these awards are a numbers game, so leave no stone unturned.
  •  Have fun. Often, publications name finalists soon after the deadline, then announce winners at a paid banquet later. If possible, the nominee should attend to (hopefully) accept the award in person. Even as a finalist, it’s their night to shine! If colleagues can go, even better.
  •  Promote your win. A news release about an award bestowed by one publication won’t be picked up by a competing media outlet, but you can still publicize the victory in the winner’s hometown newspaper, college alumni publication, professional journals, and newsletters of organizations or chambers to which they belong. And, of course, post the happy news on the organization’s own social media channels and website.

With some planning, thought and effort, you can take advantage of awards programs to enhance the reputation of your client or organization while boosting morale of their employees. And who doesn’t like to add hardware to the trophy case?

As for Healthcare Heroes, our client’s physician nominee took home the big prize, but all our entries are heroes in their patients’ eyes.

Rx for Reputation Health

Manage Online Reviews

What’s worse than a negative online review of a physician practice?

A negative review that’s left to linger in perpetuity, unanswered, like sagebrush drifting across a ghost town. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a whopping 99% of healthcare consumers said physician ratings found on the Web were “very important” or “somewhat important” in their decision making.

Digital recommendations can be a boon to your office, but digital slams can be equally impactful in dragging down business. Seventy percent of consumers base purchasing decisions on online recommendations from strangers, and that figure rises to 80% for Millennials, according to a 2015 study by global market research firm Mintel.  Some 86% of consumers will hesitate to purchase goods or services from a business with negative reviews on sites such as Yelp, Healthgrades.com and ZocDoc.com.

Clearly, your online reputation is important, and requires attention and nurturing. During the Public Relations Society of America annual conference in Orlando, which SPRYTE attended, Matt Weber, CEO of ROAR! Internet Marketing, presented “First Aid for Online Reputation,” which offered techniques to help physicians take command of their standing in cyberspace.

First, Do No Harm

Poor or rude service, long waits, arbitrary billing practices or missed diagnoses may foster negative reviews, so start by running a professional, pleasant operation. Why invite negativity? If, despite your best efforts, patients complain online (and there will always be a few), you can manage that feedback and maybe even turn it into a positive endorsement.

Claiming or register your business on the relevant review sites, then keep your ear to the tracks. Just about all of them will alert you when reviews are posted, but you should also sign up for Google Alerts or FreeReviewMonitoring.com for your practice’s name.

There are also paid tools for review monitoring, including:

The Treatment Plan

If a good review shows up, great! No need to do anything, unless you want to write a brief “thank you” note in response.

When a bad review surfaces, however, spring into action pronto:

Respond quickly, preferably within 24 hours. The more prospective patients who read negative comments without seeing your side, the worse it is for your practice. Additionally, no response gives the impression you simply don’t care.

Set up login information and keep it handy. Make sure key support staff have the passwords for all the key review sites, so someone else can respond quickly if the designated employee is unavailable.

Create template responses. Be ready to go with a pre-written but sincere apology and promise to do better, or to address the patient’s issue in more detail, offline and in private. Then follow up. With a few tweaks, you can customize your reply quickly and let the commenter know you’re listening to their specific concern.

If you believe you’ve addressed the problem to the patient’s satisfaction, consider requesting an amended review. A changed opinion could be a great outcome for your practice!

Solicit reviews. You can do this with a third-party site that will manage the process, like SurveyMonkey.com, or by e-mailing patients requesting a review, with direct links to the major review sites.

Review Malpractice

Don’t ever post a fake review, or ask a friend or relative to do so. Google and other sites have algorithms that will weed out fraudulent reviews, and they’ll be removed.

And don’t post reviews from the office, even if they’re legitimate ones compiled from patients. Review-posting on behalf of others is frowned-upon by search engines. Not to mention, patients may not provide their completely honest feedback while they’re still in the office.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, patients and clients will share their negative encounters with your practice on the Web. But if you are monitoring and KNOW what they are saying about you, you can be in control of reviews, rather than letting them control you.