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Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.52.48 PMThe New England Society for Healthcare Communications will be hosting a very special online presentation by Dr. Sheri Fink, the author of Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. I read the book about a year ago and was riveted. The presentation is free to anyone who registers using the discount code “GUEST”. Use this link to register. We would love to have you join us for this very special presentation. I am thrilled that Sheri is willing to bring her story to NESHCo members and our guests. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. There’s plenty of time to read it before the January 29th presentation. Here are more details about the event:

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Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 7.02.18 AMI was in a board meeting last week when members were asked to state the one part of their job that they love the most. Two of the board members, both seasoned marketing communications professionals, mentioned crisis communication. I immediately understood where they were coming from. Like them, I enjoy crisis communication. There’s nothing like a good crisis to get your blood stirring. And if you are an experienced crisis communications professional, it is a chance to shine – at a time when many others are completely out of sorts. It is hard to find another time when our skills and experience are more appreciated and valued.

Ebola has once again focused hospitals and medical centers on the importance of having a comprehensive Crisis Communication Plan. Yet, I am amazed at how many organizations still do not have one. Yes, almost all hospitals have crisis management plans and protocols – but not crisis communication plans. How do you plan to communicate with your various publics in the event of:

  • Pandemic or Public Health Crisis – Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, etc.
  • Natural Disaster that Strikes Your Region of the Country – Think Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina. This could include tornadoes, ice storms…
  • Disaster at Your Facility – Explosion, Chemical or Nuclear Contamination, Fire, or Mass Casualty Event on your campus.
  • Mass Casualty Event in Your Market – Bus accident, plane crash, shooting.
  • Institutional Crisis, Medical Error, Patient Safety or Malfeasance – Many of these tend to be smoldering crises that arise over time and generally provides the company with some advance warning. In my experience, these tend to be the most common crisis that occur at hospitals – at least they happen with the most frequency.

I learned crisis communication planning and preparedness from three major events much earlier in my career.

  • SARS 2003 – Back in 2003 I was doing marketing and public relations for UNC Health Care when a UNC-Chapel Hill employee came down with SARS after visiting a sick relative in a Toronto hospital. At the time, SARS was an emerging global epidemic, not unlike Ebola today. This was an amazing learning experience.
  • Managed Care Negotiation Crisis – People panic when they learn that their healthcare provider will no longer accept their insurance. At this point in my career I’ve been involved in communication planning for nearly a dozen contentious managed care negotiations. We plan contingencies and communications strategies should the negotiations break down. And they often do. You need to have a plan for how you will communicate with patients, employers in the market, your employees, influentials and government leaders, etc. How will you respond when the health insurance company releases a statement that negotiations have broken down and you are at fault? And you are the reason people won’t have access to their beloved physicians.
  • Institutional Crisis – Nearly 15 years ago my firm was brought in to manage communications around the launch of a children’s hospital that had gone horribly wrong. The hospital was months behind schedule, approximately $25 million over budget (perceived to be public funds), and a hospital employee was quoted in local media saying that she was “spending money like a drunken sailor” in the construction of this new children’s hospital. As you might imagine, bad press was abundant. It was my teams job to intervene and change the story and public discourse about this new children’s hospital. Fortunately, we were able to do that.

If your hospital doesn’t have a crisis communications plan, it is time to develop one. If you need help, bring in a seasoned crisis planning and communications professional to help put the plan together. If you don’t know the right person, I’d be glad to put my team on it! This is an investment in your hospital’s reputation. It is our job, as communicators, to protect the integrity and reputation of the organizations that employ us. Are you and your team prepared to do that? Do you have a plan? Remember, there will always be another Ebola. Think about SARS, Swine Flu, Avian Influenza….

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. And then there’s the story of the little engine that could. The truth is, there are advantages to being small. That certainly applies to marketing firms and hospitals. My firm will never be a massive company with hundreds of employees. We don’t aspire to be huge. We aspire to be great. We like being a nimble, boutique-style firm. It allows us the flexibility to work with smaller hospital clients who round out our client base of academic medical centers, health systems and regional hospitals – as well as other non-hospital healthcare clients. What that requires of us is being affordable and providing the level of service that the smaller hospitals appreciate.

We currently work with a number of small hospitals (Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Copley Hospital, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital). Interestingly, they allow us to do some of our best work and to be involved in fascinating assignments. Sometimes smaller organizations will charge ahead where a big medical center would be slowed by layers of decision-making and the general inertia that goes with being big.

One example of a smaller organization that does amazing work is Signature Healthcare in Brockton, Massachusetts. They are always involving us in the most interesting assignments – and the work is so rewarding. A couple months ago I wrote a post about the live Twittercast we did from a transradial cardiac procedure at Signature Healthcare. We partnered with their interventional cardiology and marketing teams on the Twittercast. The event was a great success and they are still reaping the rewards. And it wasn’t difficult to do. It was a lot of work, but it was fairly straight forward. We sat down with the chief of cardiology, explained our strategy, developed a plan and then executed the plan with his full support.

I’m motivated to write this post because this weekend a huge article (cover story) ran in the Sunday edition of The Enterprise, one of Signature Healthcare’s local papers. It told the story of the Twittercast in great detail. The story reminded me just how much I enjoy working with the team at Signature and how willing they have been to let my team take them into previously unexplored territory. And it has led to some extraordinary work with terrific outcomes for the organization.

So, today I am celebrating “smallness.” It is good to be small – or midsized. Not large. At least for today. Below I have inserted images from the cover story that ran in Sunday’s paper. It really is terrific coverage. If you click on any of the images you can see an enlarged version. Enjoy!

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Here is the recording of the webinar I had the pleasure of moderated yesterday. My friend Dan Hinmon of Hive Strategies was the lead presenter. The topic was “Look Before You Leap: Launching Online Patient Communities.” This is a great introduction to the planning that needs to be done prior to attempting to start a new online patient support community. Enjoy.

 

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I’ve been fascinated with the rise of physician-only online communities for some time. The rise of the “digital physician” has significant implications for physician marketing and physician relations. It is a trend worth following. Today, approximately 1/3 of all physicians in the U.S. belong to a physician-only online social network.

One of the leading physician social networks is Sermo. Earlier this week Sermo’s PR team contacted me to share their latest news – the development of four new Social Hubs joining the current six specialties for Multiple Sclerosis, Oncology, Diabetes, Cardiology, Obesity, and Infectious Diseases. Each Social Hub is led by a group of more than 40 SERMO users that generate discussion topics and create authoring polls for members. They provide users with a platform for learning and a forum for professional networking and development. (SERMO is a physicians-only social network with over 270,000 U.S. physician members. It competes with the likes of Doximity and WebMD’s Medscape.)

The new Social Hubs cover the topics of Dermatology, Pain Medicine, Depression, and Bipolar Disorder. The Social Hubs provide member physicians with a multi-channel platform, enabling them to broaden their knowledge about some of the most innovative medical specialties and conduct in-depth peer discussions. Members within the Social Hubs can create disease or specialty-focused polls, post related video content, view related Twitter discussions, and learn about the latest industry conferences.

According to Sermo, its Social Hubs are the only forum for peer-to-peer collaboration among physicians which combines social content from multiple online sources with live crowd-sourced patient cases, guest contributors, and breaking news. Sermo compares its social hubs to virtual medical conferences – allowing physicians to interact with peers, learn and review their latest research and news, and discuss patient cases and clinical content in an engaging arena focused on specific health topics.

The strategy of launching these disease-specific or condition-specific social hubs makes a lot of sense. These online communities for physicians, much like those for patients, are most effective when they are focused on niche areas of interest. In the past I’ve written about the power of “communities of shared interest.” It looks like Sermo is finding that it can deliver more value to its community members by providing niche communities. I’m not surprised!

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention or has been without Internet service for the last few years, here’s a news flash: Video is currently rocking the content marketing world. This is true in healthcare, as it is in other industries. Physician, patient and employee videos are finding engaged audiences. When we saw this trend coming, my company started a division focused on patient videos and physician videos. Here’s an infographic that tells the story of video’s rise to supremacy.

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This is another infographic I found thanks to digital marketing strategist, Juntae Delane. This graphic was created by the Infographic Design Team.

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