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Posted on 05.14.2013

Medical Drama Misses Mark on Crisis PR

I've always been a fan of the television medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," a show that follows the fictional lives of surgical interns and residents as they evolve into expert physicians at a Seattle hospital. Even in the seasons when the writers seemed to be on an extended vacation (season four), the show's complex characters and medical challenges have continued to hold my interest.

Usually, when the show's medical content strays from reality, I don't let it bother me. After all, it's fiction. But a few weeks ago, "Grey's" ventured into hospital crisis communications - or rather, a fictionalized version of it - and I couldn't keep myself from feeling agitated.

Here's the short version: The hospital discovers that one of its surgeons has unknowingly passed a fatal infection to several patients. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has investigators on site who pinpoint the source41 of the problem and provide oversight for eradicating the issue. One hospital leader suggests putting out a press release explaining why the CDC is in town, but his colleagues nix the idea. Viewers are left to believe the hospital sits on its hands in terms of communications (and does a bad job of dodging patient questions) until it simply issues a press release after the crisis is over. And by "issuing a press release" I mean handing it to a young patient who wants to be a journalist so she can scoop the other media in town.

Are you ripping your hair out yet? The show completely ignores the communications steps that a hospital should, and hopefully would, take during such a crisis. In fact, nobody even seems that concerned with developing a crisis communications plan to answer questions from patients, staff and the general public. There's no talk of how the news could negatively impact the hospital's reputation and admissions if it isn't handled properly. Who knows what was in that press release handed over with such nonchalance, but I guess the hospital thinks it says enough to avoid the likely storm of negative press and frightened calls from patients.

Of course, as anyone who has ever seen public relations portrayed in mainstream media knows, it's highly unlikely that a medical drama would take the time to give crisis communications the airtime it could consume. But it made me wonder why, if it was going to get such flippant treatment, was communication strategy mentioned at all.

You may not be a "Grey's" fan, but I know you know what I'm talking about. What is your favorite - or least favorite - television portrayal of public relations?


Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Erin’s blogs here. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com or @ErinLawley.

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