Strategies to Tackle Crisis Communication in Medical Practices


Crisis situations in the healthcare industry have a greater magnitude than crisis in other industries, owing to the nature of the customers and the stakeholders that get churned up in the middle of it. For hospitals and medical practices, the pressure can be overwhelming, especially because their clients – the patients – trust them to provide high-quality care. Naturally, this means that crisis situations call for a greater onus on healthcare organizations to maintain and rebuild patient trust and keep patient experience deterioration at a minimum. The problem is further exacerbated when the healthcare organization experiencing crisis is an independent practice. These small, privately-owned businesses often do not have the same resources as large hospitals and must excel at crisis communication not only to get through the situation, but also to keep their entire business from sinking.

Prevention is the Best Measure

There is little a medical practice can do to handle crisis if it does not already have a crisis management team and an efficient plan in place. No matter how lucky your practice has been in the past, a prevention-first mindset is what will save you in a truly adverse event.

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Create a Communications Team

Depending on the size and complexity of your practice, put a team in place to specifically handle communication in a crisis. Even in the smallest team, you will need one person to direct operations and take charge, one to be the spokesperson or the “face” of the organizations, and one to handle channels like the telephone and social media. Keep in mind that every member of your crisis communication team should be calm and composed in the face of adversities, be able to stand back and see the bigger picture and have a strategic planning mindset.

Formulate a Plan

A well-prepared practice is one that has run crisis simulations and handled them successfully. In the time that you allot to staff training, invent scenarios that can take place and decide how to deal with it in a professional attitude that also exhibits care for the customers. Hold regular team meetings to put protocols in place and to form a specific plan. For example, if your practice office caught on fire one day, how will the team members connect? Who will get help and how? Who will take care of saving the resources? How will everyone stay in touch? Once the danger has passed, who will break the news and through what channels, who will speak to the media, and who will take care of communicating with the patients? All of these and more are solid questions that need to have roles and tasks assigned in order to be efficiently taken care of. Remember that when crisis strikes, there will be no time for planning.

Adopting the Right Solutions

Prior to a crisis, healthcare organizations need to adopt and invest in emergency messaging solutions. OnPage provides a mass notification tool BlastIT, allowing healthcare providers to receive immediate, simultaneous mobile alerts regarding an ongoing situation. Additionally, BlastIT’s console administrators receive notifications, stating when a recipient acknowledged an urgent alert. This enhances team communications, ensuring that urgent messages are never missed. Also, stakeholders can be notified of urgent situations. This way, healthcare teams and stakeholders will always be aware of crisis or urgent events.

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Additionally, healthcare organizations can enhance their crisis protocols by adopting a HIPAA-compliant clinical communications solution. The solution provides encrypted, secure mobile exchanges between healthcare providers, ensuring that communications remain protected during urgent events or situations.

Develop Statements in Advance

A crisis needs all hands on heck, and there will be no time for someone to sit down to formulate statements that can be communicated to stakeholders. It is important to have practiced scenarios and to know what each team member will say when they are asked questions. Keep statements short, clear, straightforward and honest; misinterpreted information travels fast and is practically impossible to reverse or erase. For a medical practice, it is important to exhibit transparency in their communication, since client trust needs to be upheld.

Take Every Stakeholder Into Account

What is often ignored in communication during a crisis is the number of audiences. For example, the audience that needs to be communicated information too is not just your practice staff and employed physicians; each of these persons is linked to people outside, and any and all information will undoubtedly travel to them. It is essential to cover all related audiences and make sure the message that reaches them is the one you want to communicate.

Minimize Liability on Your Organization

Ensure legal help by your side as you roll out messages and statements. This will help your healthcare organization minimize liability while avoiding giving out unintentional and unnecessary details. Your attorneys will tell you how to break the news, and how to highlight the positive measures you are taking to handle the situation at hand. Before a situation as such occurs, a medical practice must have legal counsel and communication strategists employed, and make sure they have worked together and have a crisis plan in place.

Acknowledge Emotions

Unfortunately, crisis in any healthcare organization means that there can be loss of health and life involved. In any internal and external communications, keep in mind that the situation is highly emotive, and you must take into account the trauma that involved parties may be experiencing. The last thing a medical practice spokesperson should do in a crisis situation is seem aloof and void of empathy for the affected persons. While you can widen the lens by taking into account bigger crisis that take place, like medical frauds, unionization campaigns, and unexpected disasters or accidents, do not downplay the situation at hand.

While crisis is any organization is a stressful situation to deal with, it is in a medical practice that values, priorities, and communication is the most important. At the end of the day, practice owners must take not only inform, but also reassure and support the patients, evaluate the crisis and assess status, and ensure the absolute safety of everyone, put an action plan into place, and follow up. In moments like these, it is the preparedness, empathy and responsibility that will prove to be most crucial.

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