Crisis Communication: What to Do if Your Compounding Pharmacy Makes a Mistake
It’s a pharmacist’s worst nightmare: Despite all of your quality control, careful practices, commitment to high standards, supply chain integrity, vetting and preparation, someone has made a mistake and your pharmacy has been thrust into the limelight. Your phone rings off the hook and news crews are gathered outside your door. Your career running a successful compounding pharmacy never prepared you for this situation. What are you supposed to do?
In our industry, it’s conceivable that we could end up with the bright lights of television news cameras shining on us, or a reporter on the phone, for any number of reasons. No matter the seriousness of the situation, and whether or not it was preventable or even the fault of our staff in the first place, trying to handle insistent and possibly negative attention can be overwhelming for pharmacy operators.
So if you find yourself in a situation where every potential move feels fraught, what should you do? The only thing worse than not responding at all is a poor response, after all.
The Keys to a Measured, Effective Response Through Crisis Communication
Even in a fast-moving situation, it’s important to remember to stay calm and work in a measured and deliberate fashion. Too often, inexperienced executives will either resort too quickly to a “no comment” or attempt to hastily do damage control, both of which can be damaging to your pharmacy’s image and difficult to take back.
First things first: contact your attorney.
If you do not have a regular attorney, find one who specializes in health care or specifically pharmacy matters. Explain to them your situation and that you are planning to put together some communication that you will need to run by them quickly.
Make sure that you are within your HIPAA obligations and that there’s no possibility of any of your planned actions putting you out of compliance with any health care regulations, especially if the original situation had anything to do with those statutes.
Simultaneously, contact your crisis communications team.
If you do not have an in-house communications specialist, contact a crisis communications specialist or PR professional with health care industry experience. Explain your situation to them and introduce them to your attorney. Begin crafting a statement immediately. If you’re not confident in your in-house person’s ability to craft a statement, put it in the hands of a professional.
For your statement, do:
- Use plain speech: Stay away from jargon or long-windedness that could appear as attempts to obfuscate the situation.
- Offer some information: Statements that say nothing are generally worse than not putting out a statement at all. Shed some light on the situation, but don’t over-inform. Your attorney should be able to provide some guidance about your risk level here, depending on the severity of the original situation.
- Keep it brief: Avoid making promises of actions or guessing any results of an investigation. If law enforcement is involved, you’ll want to make sure that you emphasize that there is an ongoing investigation and your reticence comes from not wanting to interfere with that situation.
- Consider the “responsibility” factor: Most PR professionals will note that organizations typically garner more goodwill if they’re upfront about the situation, transparent about actions that will be taken and fully accept responsibility. In health care, this can be trickier ground. For one, it certainly depends on the severity of the original incident. You’ll want to be more careful about assigning responsibility if there’s an active investigation or if your attorney advises you that there might be some legal exposure by moving too quickly on that front. In that case, a communications professional should be able to help you word your statement in such a way that your sincerity is evident, but you make minimal comments about responsibility.1
- Make sure you go digital: It’s not just about local news and the local paper anymore. Any news about your situation will be online as well, so make sure you publish your statement in your online channels as well, so that it appears in any search results alongside news stories.
- Know your audience: Your communications team can help you with this, but make sure you’re clearly identifying who you’re speaking to in each part of your statement. Do you need to reassure patients and families? Are you speaking to the community-at-large?2
Next, appoint a spokesperson and a media representative.
If your pharmacy does not have a full-time spokesperson, and even if you do, the chief executive should be the face of your crisis communication team, particularly if the situation is serious. Note that the person who delivers the statement, or has his or her name associated with it once released, does not have to be the same as the media point-person. A delegate can handle media inquiries, but for the best results from the statement, it should be associated with or delivered by the pharmacy’s highest executive.3
Throughout the process, communicate clearly with your staff.
Being part of a pharmacy going through a potential crisis situation can be anxiety-inducing for your staff, particularly if the situation involves negligence or wrongdoing by a peer. Make sure that you’re keeping your staff informed of what they need to know and give them confidence that their leadership team is handling it appropriately. Let your staff know that they should refer any inquiries regarding the incident to your media representative.
Whatever you do, don’t let the first time your staff hear your words about the event be on television, in the newspaper or online. They should have heard a brief version of your statement already through internal channels. And don’t leave your staff hanging and at the mercy of reporters or other information-seekers. Always give employees a way to redirect these unwanted inquiries toward the person on your team who is trained to handle media. This also ensures that your public responses stay consistent and on-message, rather than becoming a collection of guesses and thoughts from staff.
If there is an ongoing investigation, save all necessary materials.
Your attorney will be able to advise you more on this matter, but depending on whether there’s a legal angle to your situation, you may be required to save all physical and electronic evidence related to the incident. Staff can sometimes accidentally delete correspondence or otherwise unintentionally hamper an investigation, which can reflect poorly on the pharmacy. Make sure everyone understands what should be collected and remain untouched.
Going through a crisis can be a trying time for any compounding pharmacy, but strong leadership and a measured response throughout any situation can bring your pharmacy out the other side of a storm stronger than ever. Just as patients come to you for custom-compounded medications, trusting professionals in a crisis situation can help you form and execute a crisis communication plan with clarity and confidence.
Pharmaceutica North America is a premier provider of high-quality bulk active pharmaceutical ingredients, unit-dose APIs and custom compounding kits. Our expertise in all aspects of compounding pharmacy operations helps us help our clients to provide the best possible patient care. Contact us to learn more.
- “Tips for Tackling Crisis Communications in the Healthcare Industry,” April 23, 2014, http://kps3.com/tips-for-tackling-crisis-communications-in-the-healthcare-industry/ ↩
- “A crisis communication plan in healthcare is a priority. But it’s not urgent.” Sept. 11, 2012, http://www.foxgrp.com/blog/crisis-communication-plan-in-healthcare/ ↩
- “Managing the Media in Healthcare Crisis Situations,” accessed Jan. 31, 2016, http://www.ultrariskadvisors.com/managing-the-media-in-healthcare-crisis-situations-2/ ↩