[Editor’s note: In this guest submission, Jason Snyder, VP of WordWrite Communications, explains why it’s critical for hospitals to invest in crisis communications and reputation management planning, especially in this period of healthcare reform.]
Hospitals, rife with risk, need a crisis communications plan
“As long as they spell my name right.”
There are plenty of naïve people whose view on getting publicity is that unsophisticated. Ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose “Weinergate” Twitter photos destroyed his political career, whether he agrees. Weiner was likely spelled correctly thousands of times in media coverage of the infamously inappropriate picture he tweeted to a 21-year-old college student.
More savvy business leaders will tell you that in some cases, the best headline they’ve ever read is the one they didn’t read. In other words, an organization’s ability to effectively manage crisis situations before they become headlines is, or should be, a highly valued skill.
And there are few places where crises can take place more often than a hospital.
Consider these headlines, none of which the hospital’s CEO was likely happy about reading:
HIPPA violations, lab errors and compliance violations happen regularly at hospitals. Even the country’s best hospitals make mistakes. It’s human nature. It’s inherent in the business. Whether such breaches are inexcusable or unforgivable is up for debate.
What is inexcusable, though, is knowing that these violations can and will happen yet being unprepared to handle them. Having a crisis plan in place that considers, among other things, which administrators to contact; how legal counsel gets involved; and how, if at all, patients are informed is the first step in managing what could become a public relations crisis if not properly managed. A significant portion of the crisis plan should be a detailed strategy for communications.
Many hospitals have long-time staffers who simply “know what to do” in these situations and therefore can manage through them. But what happens when those staffers quit or retire or they’re on vacation? What happens when middle management and front-line staff are left to take on an aggressive reporter whose satellite truck is parked in front of the emergency room entrance?
Hospital communications staff do a tremendous amount of work promoting their hospital through public relations and marketing communications. Communications departments are usually understaffed and pulled in dozens of directions. It’s no surprise, then, that taking the time to develop and memorize well conceived crisis communications plans and to train the appropriate staff in how to execute them can fall by the wayside.
As healthcare reform marches on, reimbursement is more closely linked to quality. Quality affects community benefit. Community benefit affects perception and reputation, and tax-exempt status is under fire. So an investment in crisis communications planning is not only smart, it’s vital. Working with a trusted partner to develop and practice the crisis plans will give communications staffers the time and peace of mind they need for their proactive work earning the kinds of headlines CEOs do want to read, not the ones that keep them up at night.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management