For weeks, communications teams at hospitals and health care systems across the country have been thinking about how to respond if a patient presented with the new coronavirus, clinically known as COVID-19.
Now that federal health officials have warned Americans to prepare for community spread of the illness, we’re moving past the thinking stage.
"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
As the continued frenzy around the virus approaches fever pitch, it's time for communicators to move into action.
Dust off – or pull together – your crisis communications plan. This may sound simple, but some organizations simply don't want to invest the time or money to develop a plan they hope never to implement. But a plan helps establish a mutually agreed upon process and course of action should an emergency arise and positions hospital leaders to swiftly move into action when the public, media, patients and employees are looking to them as an authority.
Work collectively with representatives from local, state and federal agencies. Anytime there is a threat of disease outbreak, regardless of the level of severity, it is critical to work collectively with agencies like the CDC or a public health department to ensure that local relevant, factual information is being exchanged and shared publicly.
Take stock of online assets. Communication directors and other leaders should be prepared to leverage their organization’s online presence – almost like a pressroom. If the hospital has multiple assets, be sure those messaging platforms work in the hospital's favor by posting relevant information and updates in a timely manner.
Review social media policies and procedures. If it is unclear who monitors and manages your social outlets (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.,) 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 – and rumors. If you haven’t already, start monitoring your social assets more closely for opportunities to dispel myths and spread factual information.
And now may be a good time to remind everyone in your organization about your social media policies. When buzz volume and patient volume increase at the same time, employees can lose sight of organizational policies and expectations for conduct.
Talk to those closest. Don't forget to communicate with the people who may be your best ally in sharing information within the community — your employees. Employees talk to their family members, their church congregation, the lady behind them in line at the supermarket — all prime opportunities for a positive, informed conversation about what the organization is doing to respond.
Enlist partners to help. It's not uncommon for hospitals to have community partners like local health clubs, senior groups or nonprofit wellness organization. These groups are also hungry for information and should be considered an addition to the cadre of communications tools.
Have a media response process. With a media response protocol 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 managed efficiently and effectively.
Does your communication team need support? Lovell Communications has decades of experience managing issues and crises that impact health care organizations. Put our experience to work for you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615-297-7766.
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