COVID-19 Updates

Weekly Comms Report — The White House Targets Hospitals

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to share the names of hospitals and health systems that have not adequately or correctly reported data via the federal pandemic reporting system.

We don’t know how many hospitals will end up on this list, but the intentional effort to publicize this information poses a reputational threat to hospitals across the country. Our team at ReviveHealth has worked to develop an approach for marketing and communications teams to manage the reputation risk as this potential issue emerges. Let us know if you’d like to set up a no-obligation conversation with our issues team.

 

Communicating about COVID-19

 

1. Assuaging public concerns about the safety and efficacy of a new vaccine.

What we’re hearing: Previous polls have revealed that 1 in 3 Americans will not get a vaccine for the novel coronavirus when it becomes available. Today, with the safety of the vaccine under intense scrutiny as clinical trials progress, it becomes even more critical to begin building trust with the public and communicate that the final, approved vaccine will be safe and effective. Last week, nine of the top drug companies pledged not to seek regulatory approval for any vaccine before it meets proper FDA protocols and has proven to be safe and effective through Phase 3 clinical trials — regardless of outside pressure and timeline from the White House.   

Communications takeaway: While drug companies play a key role in establishing public confidence in and support for a vaccine, so will health systems. While health systems need to prepare for the future — including how they will justify the distribution of the likely limited doses of the vaccine — they must also be ready to communicate about issues related to the vaccine’s safety. Consumers view systems as credible sources of information, and will therefore look to them for guidance in the coming months. Health systems should be prepared to communicate the rigorous process an approved vaccine goes through, as well as answer any number of questions from concerned or confused community members.


2. Communicating the positive impact of difficult decisions.

What we’re hearing: Across the country, smaller independent hospitals are being forced to make difficult and drastic decisions to recover from catastrophic financial losses. As these hospitals continue to struggle, they are pressured to cut service line volumes and availability and staff to compensate for cash flow issues, as well as counteract ongoing price hikes for drugs and contracted staffing. For rural hospitals, these added pressures and challenges come at a time when many were already facing uncertain futures.

Communications takeaway: With the seemingly never-ending struggles for small hospitals increasing during the pandemic, all signs point to the continued rise in mergers and acquisitions. Now is the time for small hospitals to be planning how they will communicate, both internally and externally, actions they have already taken to mitigate these issues. If considering a merger, leadership should be sure to tell the hospital’s story first and pair the news by sharing the anticipated benefits for the health system and community as a result of any change. If facing drastic changes, such as reducing services and offerings, clearly explain why such measures are necessary during this time. Further, consider highlighting how each specific change supports the system’s longevity within the community.


3. Establishing expertise regarding the public’s health. 

What we’re hearing: The CDC recently revised its testing guidelines to exclude asymptomatic individuals, regardless of reported exposure to the virus. The news created an uproar among the healthcare community, with experts speaking out to emphasize the public health threat the decision poses. The CDC has now walked back its original claims, leaving the public more confused than ever. Who can consumers trust? When should they get tested? What changes in guidelines will come next?

Communications takeaway: All the back and forth from the federal government has bred significant mistrust among consumers. Now more than ever, community members are seeking truth, supporting the notion that hospitals can and should become that voice of reason — establishing themselves as the experts on the health of the communities they serve. Systems should consider working in close collaboration with local health departments, elected officials, and other public entities to take a stand against misinformation and steer individuals toward the facts. Right now, that could look like reminding the community when and how to get tested via a strategic communications plan and social media push. Moving forward, systems should anticipate and prepare for additional changes in guidelines from the government.