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Posted on 10.09.2014

6 crisis communications considerations as US hospitals prepare for Ebola

This post first appeared in Becker's Hospital Review. 

In the months and weeks leading up to the first Ebola diagnosis within the borders of the U.S., communications teams at hospitals and healthcare systems across the country were undoubtedly thinking about how they would respond if the disease presented in their emergency rooms. If they weren't, well, now is the time for trial by fire..


As the media frenzy surrounding the first case in Dallas is approaching fever pitch, it's a good indication of what any hospital can expect if the disease reaches its doorstep. So what are some key considerations of any crisis plan that communications directors, public information officers and media relations managers should be focused on right now before national media is on their front lawn?

  • Have a crisis communications plan in the first place. This may sound simple, but some organizations simply don't want to invest the time or money to develop a plan that may never be implemented (which is rarely the case). A plan helps establish a mutually agreed upon process and course of action should an emergency arise and positions hospital leaders to put the plan into action immediately without wasting precious time when the public, media, patients and employees are searching for answers.  
  • Take stock of online assets. Communication directors and other such leaders should be prepared to leverage their online presence in a crisis. If the hospital has multiple websites, or a website and a blog, be sure to make those messaging platforms work in the hospital's favor by posting relevant information and updating the information in a timely manner.
  • Review social media policies and procedures. If it is unclear who tweets or posts to Facebook for the organization, now is the time to find out. As history has shown, Twitter has become the first stop for many to report and find breaking news. If the hospital has social media outlets, and most do, start monitoring them more closely for opportunities to dispel rumors, spread factual information or to just converse with the audience.
  • Talk to those closest. When a crisis hits, sometimes it's easy to forget about internal communications. While a large part of the day may be consumed with talking to external audiences, like reporters or concerned citizens, don't forget to inform the people who can be the best ally in sharing information within the community — hospital employees. Employees talk to their family members, their church congregation, the lady behind them in line at the supermarket — all prime opportunities for a conversation about what the organization is doing to respond during a time of crisis.
  • Enlist partners to help. It's not uncommon for hospitals to have community partners like a local health club, senior living facility or nonprofit wellness organization. In a crisis, these groups should be considered an addition to the cadre of communications tools.
  • Have a media response process. No doubt, right now the media spokesperson for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas has a full voicemail and email inbox. With a media response plan in place, one that includes a step-by-step guide to how media requests are shared internally and who responds to them, the onslaught of phone calls and emails can be manage efficiently and effectively.

Amanda Anderson is a senior account supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Amanda’s blogs here. Connect with Amanda at amanda@lovell.com or @AmanderTN.

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