When you think of your communication goals, they’re probably focused on promoting your healthcare organization broadly within your community. Of course this is an essential ingredient in attracting highly qualified staff and building patient volume. But did you know that it’s also just as important—if not more so—to develop an internal communication strategy?
Savvy hospital administrators understand that the most effective communication strategies begin by sharing information and messages with their employees first, establishing a solid foundation inside the organization, and then using this as a bridge to reach the community at large.
I recently witnessed a striking example of this when a certain hospital dealt with a major public health crisis. The organization was charged with treating several Ebola patients in the U.S. In my opinion, the key to their success during this highly stressful time was keeping every staff member well informed of the developing situation every step of the way.
The hospital management used a variety of channels to keep employees in the loop as the situation continually changed. For instance, they sent memos and emails presenting the facts and anticipating any questions. They also posted frequent updates to their social media sites. Photos and videos were shared internally (as well as with the media and community) to ensure awareness about everything that was happening.
I believe that by sharing information in an honest, open, and timely manner, the hospital management really helped eliminate the guesswork—and the potential for panic—among its staff members. This approach also guaranteed that staff would hear crucial information from the hospital itself before it spread to the community, going a long way toward creating a climate of trust.
The management team also reached out to other patients and families on their campus, who were grappling with uncertainty and concerns. They delivered a letter to every patient room, providing the facts on how things were being handled, and offering reassurance that there was no danger to anyone.
All of these internal communication efforts also created a culture of safety and support, leaving the hospital better positioned to maintain a unified front when responding to media requests. As a result, a situation that could have spiraled out of control remained very organized and professional. Of course, such a multi-faceted internal communications effort could also work well for a measles or MRSA outbreak, a safety issue, or a host of other crises that could face hospitals today.
The most important takeaway from this example is that when you think about designing your own communications strategy, it’s important to start by creating a strong internal framework that can serve as the foundation for everything that comes next.