Weekly Comms Report — July 29, 2020
As hospital and health system marketers and communicators, we’re in a fight for the attention — and ultimately, the well-being — of the consumer. It’s a fight for truth, and against misinformation. For health, and against delayed care. For safety, and against fear. For access, and against inequity.
Keep up the good fight. Arm yourself with clear messaging strategies for the changing consumer and gather knowledge on what you’re up against (covered below). We’re in this together. If you ever want to discuss strategies for your specific market and situation, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Communicating about COVID-19
1. Sounding the alarm.
What we’re hearing: Health systems have come a long way in speaking out against misinformation; they are being more direct and proactive in "sounding the alarm" to the general public about the true dangers of the pandemic’s spread, the legitimacy of public health initiatives, and the official status of finding the cure. Systems and doctors are now addressing the dire situations they’re in and are calling on the public to take action. They are doing this in conversational, and even provocative, ways to garner attention.
Communications takeaway: Approaches that may have previously been considered too direct may now be the best way to reach consumers. Messages of truth must rise above the blaring noise of misinformation that continues to spread. From our research, hospitals still rank highly among the most trusted sources of information for consumers. Hospitals, therefore, have a responsibility to communicate what they see within their communities, what the public can do to fight the pandemic, and perhaps most importantly, what falsehoods and viral misinformation are being spread in the media. Health systems have an obligation to be voices of truth in their communities by countering dangerous information.
2. Responding to criticism on CARES Act funding.
What we’re hearing: After the passing of relief legislation, the general public expects health systems to have the appropriate funds to meet COVID-19 challenges, including the current surge. Staffing, equipment, and PPE are all a part of the financial expectations. After the latest round of CARES Act funding, hospitals are in the hot seat once again due to some publicly-traded health systems seeing their profits rise in Q2.
Communications takeaway: Health system leaders need to be prepared to respond to criticism regarding the most recent CARES Act funding. They should be making a plan now to answer likely questions from the media and public about why, with consideration for the relief funding, they may still be experiencing challenges with staffing, equipment, and PPE. Systems that received CARES Act funding, but furloughed or laid off staff, need to provide insight into these decisions, clarifying the extent of COVID-19 on their financial position. In addition, they should communicate that, despite decreased staffing resources, they are still able to meet the community’s care needs.
3. Battling the staffing crisis.
What we’re hearing: Health systems are facing more competition from other markets during the current surge for staffing resources. During the first wave, systems were able to allocate resources based on geography. Now, the impacts of the pandemic have been felt more broadly across states and regions, causing staffing to be one of the most significant challenges health systems face to increase the number of patients they can care for.
Communications takeaway: Staffing agencies have increased the rates that health systems were used to paying for their services. Health systems need to be prepared for criticism if they choose not to engage these contract workers due to increased costs, as the public may perceive this as prioritizing money over their communities' well-being. If health systems do choose to hire contract workers at the higher rates, they should proactively provide hazard pay or bonuses to their already employed clinicians working on the front lines. If they don't provide any bonus, they are likely to be criticized for this pay gap by both staff and media.