Weekly Comms Report — Our Public Health Duty
COVID-19 has highlighted some vulnerabilities in political, health, and economic systems that were bending, but not breaking before the novel coronavirus reached U.S. soil in March.
Now, as communicators and marketers in some of the most revered healthcare organizations in the country, we’re responding to issues that are more complex than ever. Racial inequities in healthcare have moved to the front-stage; political divides widen; clinical staff burnout has reached a peak. It’s a whole new normal, or rather, No Normal for hospital and health system marketers, and we’ve pulled together some recommendations this week to help you navigate these challenges.
Communicating about COVID-19
1. Persist in the fight against misinformation.
What we’re hearing: Happening in parallel to the current pandemic is what some are calling an “infodemic,” as misinformation – sometimes harmful – continues to spread throughout communities, even resulting in negative health outcomes. Now, some organizations are seeking partnerships with organizations such as NewsGuard to help identify and combat online health hoaxes.
Communications takeaway: As long as COVID-19 information is being shared, be it about masks, testing, vaccines, you name it, misinformation will continue to spread, further deteriorating the public’s trust. As we enter flu season and prepare the public for a potential vaccine, holding on to the public’s trust is critical to getting the pandemic under control. Now is the time to think outside the box and consider bringing in partners to amplify correct messages and discredit false ones. Knowledge is power – consider implementing interactive ways to engage and empower the community in the fight against misinformation. For more on the marketer’s role in combatting misinformation, watch our No Normal show from September 3.
2. Proactively communicate organizational policies and restrictions.
What we’re hearing: More and more stories about patients dying alone are highlighting the heartache and emotional toll the pandemic is causing throughout the nation. As heartbreaking as these scenarios may be, hospitals continue to have to put in place stringent, difficult protocols to contain the spread and protect patients, often spurring questions from loved ones and the public.
Communications takeaway: We’ve seen systems with outbreaks criticized for not implementing these very policies, and hospitals should remain transparent regarding current visitation restrictions — especially in end of life circumstances. Additionally, be clear on protocols for visiting patients, proactively communicating any testing requirements and estimated turnaround times for said testing. Communicators must be prepared to respond to questions from patients, patient families, and the community as policies inevitably continue to change.
3. Prioritize community outreach that emphasizes the importance of routine vaccinations, even as many children stay home.
What we’re hearing: We know that COVID-19 has done major damage to the number of patients seeking preventive care services. Perhaps most notably is the havoc wreaked on the rates of routine vaccinations. Some experts suggest that the past 25 weeks have set the country’s overall health back 25 years.
Communications takeaway: The last thing the nation needs is another public health crisis, which could be all too possible considering the alarmingly low number of vaccines administered over the past six months. As health systems prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine, they must communicate the importance of individuals also receiving routine vaccines for other diseases, including those that were once virtually eradicated. As we head into the fall and winter months, risks of illness only increase, and consumer impressions of hospital cleanliness and safety aren’t likely to improve. As marketers and communicators, it is our public health duty to continue sharing the safety measures being implemented in our facilities and encouraging the parents in our communities to seek routine care for their children.