How Hospitals Can Overcome PR Challenges During Coronavirus Pandemic

Public Relation Tips for Hospitals

Not too long ago, the biggest challenge facing Colorado hospitals was trying to explain their six-figure advertising campaign aimed at defeating a proposed public option health plan at a time when hospitals were making record profits.

Today, hospital communicators face a much more serious challenge. The coronavirus pandemic has transformed everything for hospital executives and communications teams around the world. Global shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have presented unfathomable choices, forcing healthcare workers to put their lives at risk to save their patients lives.

This situation presents numerous challenges for those tasked with communicating about how their hospital is managing the pandemic. While this is certainly a trying situation, hospital marketing, communications and public relations teams can take specific steps to protect their hospital’s reputation, reach new donors and improve employee morale during this unprecedented time.

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We recommend hospital executives and their communications teams consider taking the following steps to improve PR.

Overcommunicate with your team.

  • Use email and text messages to send daily updates
  • Host virtual town halls
  • Use your Intranet if you have one or create other ways for employees to anonymously give feedback. Encourage them to share their concerns. Make sure they know you are listening.

While your clinical staff is likely holding stand up meetings and briefings with each shift, it is important that the administrative arm of your hospital also stays in daily communication with team members at the administrative and clinical levels.

Now, more than ever, employees want to hear about the steps that you are taking to keep them and patients safe. Acknowledge your frustration at not being able to acquire enough PPE supplies and that the current landscape is uncertain. Let them know that you are inspired by their dedication and teamwork. Remind your team of all of the efforts you are making on their behalf and provide continual updates.

It is also critical to provide an avenue for your team members to share their concerns. Consider hosting weekly virtual town halls, office hours and other opportunities for your team to share their feedback with you. While you might not be able to fulfill all of their requests, it is very important to earnestly listen and implement any changes that you can, in order to help your team feel heard.

A hospital PR representative speaks at a podium outdoors for the University of Colorado Hospital about sepsis.

For team members that may not feel comfortable sharing their feedback directly, we always recommend that our clients also provide a way for their teams to provide anonymous feedback. This can be as simple as a paper and pen comment box that is checked every day or a dedicated webpage where feedback can be submitted.

Avoid creating public relations problems for yourself

  • Do not fire team members who speak to the media
  • Work collaboratively with frustrated team members
  • Avoid sending written communications that bar employees from talking to the media

Everyone has been inspired by the heroism of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who risk their lives everyday on the front lines of this crisis. This is deeply ingrained in the public psyche right now.

Communications Problem? We can help

Unfortunate shortages of personal protective equipment have caused tensions between many doctors and nurses and the hospital administrators that support them. Hospital administrators should consistently communicate that they are taking every measure possible to provide workers with all available PPE.

If adequate equipment is unavailable, administrators should be willing to work collaboratively with staff that are uncomfortable continuing to come to work. Now is not the time to discipline or even worse, fire doctors and nurses for speaking out about the lack of adequate protective equipment. That will cause more reputation and public relations problems for hospitals than it will solve. Collaboratively working to find a solution is paramount and will result in less reputational damage than attempting to silence workers.

Host regular briefings for reporters

  • Maximize your time by hosting virtual briefings
  • Offer interviews with key medical staff via Zoom
  • Create an online newsroom

Local news organizations are doing a great job of covering the pandemic and chances are you are likely receiving many requests for interviews and updates about your latest patient counts, PPE supply and other topics.

While it is important to respond to reporter requests in a timely fashion to maintain your relationships with members of the media, fielding multiple requests every week can be time consuming for hospital marketing and communications teams that are likely small and stretched thin, due to the current circumstances.

Consider hosting a daily or every other day Zoom briefing to provide the latest updates and information to reporters. During such briefings, consider leaving time at the end to answer questions. You could also have key medical staff like your hospital’s CMO or CNO available at the end of the call to give interviews via Zoom.

We often advise our clients to create a newsroom on their website where updates for journalists can be housed. In lieu or in addition to regular online briefings, you could create a document that is updated daily or weekly with key information and announcements and upload it to your website.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need

  • Ask for any PPE or other supplies you may need
  • Find a way to let the public express their gratitude
  • Use this situation to expand your email list

While it might seem counterintuitive to your traditional business model to ask the public for help, with nothing else to do right now, many Americans are looking for ways to lend their support to those battling COVID-19 on the frontlines.

A female and male doctor in stand next to each other smiling at the camera.If you are in need of donations of PPE equipment or homemade masks, consider putting a call out on your social media channels or asking your local news outlets to publicize your request. Setting up a way for local restaurants to sign up to deliver meals for your team is also a great way to allow the public to contribute to the effort to fight the virus.

Finally, this situation can also be an excellent opportunity to cultivate a list of donors to turn to for support once this situation calms down and supporting hospitals is not top-of-mind. Identify ways that you can collect email addresses that can be used for digital marketing and social media ad campaign targeting later.

Perhaps it is setting up a page on your website where people can post thank you notes to your doctors or a gated download of an e-coloring book featuring images of doctors as heroes that parents can give to their kids.

Communications Problem? We can help

Use social media to share messages of hope, resilience, gratitude

  • Set up a way to share photos and videos without needing a social media team member on-site
  • Keep content positive but don’t shy away from serious topics
  • Express your thanks for your team and other front line workers

Right now, your local community, and in some cases, the world has its eyes on your hospital. With people concerned and anxious about your team, supply shortages and what the future holds, now more than ever it is important to use your social media channels to provide messages of strength.

Show how your amazing clinicians are coming together to develop innovative ways to treat patients. Express your gratitude to the housekeeping teams that keep patient rooms and operating rooms clean. Celebrate patients who have been successfully treated. Introduce your team and thank them for their commitment to your community.

While having a staff member on-site to capture photos and videos might pose unnecessary risk and crowd already crowded floors, consider setting up a phone number where your team can quickly text photos and videos of their work that you can share on social media.

Provide white boards, markers, banners and other props that your front line workers can use to creatively share their messages in photos and videos.

Questions? We have years of healthcare PR experience and we are here to help. Use this link to schedule a free consult to discuss the challenges that are most daunting to you and your team.