Be Prepared for Coronavirus Communications

Best Practices for Coronavirus Communications

It’s natural for communities to turn to hospitals during times of health crisis. The outbreak of COVID-19 is a prime example of the important emergency-response role hospitals fill. Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen hospitals across the country prepare for and respond to growing numbers of cases and concerns of the novel coronavirus. 

The pandemic also has driven hospital communicators to update crisis communications plans and implement those efforts. Following are several best practices and resources for planning and communicating about COVID-19 emergency response.

Preparation:

Facilities still finalizing preparations are advised to:

  • Review existing crisis communication plans. Determine whether the plan provisions are outdated due to changes in technology, personnel or other factors. Update plans based on the current situation.

  • Identify your team. Define the executive leaders who will review and approve communications. Identify member roles and methods for making decisions if and when consensus can’t be reached.

  • Designate spokesperson for COVID-19 who is knowledgeable about the issue, articulate, calm and trained in how to respond to the news media.

  • Establish monitoring systems and follow media coverage using Google Alerts or your existing media monitoring tools.

  • Consider sources and tone. The days before the crisis hits is the best time to discuss the importance of using credible sources and communicating clearly with the entire communications team. Discuss the need to remain calm to avoid inciting panic.

  • Equip staff to deliver a consistent message. Share talking points with all public-facing staff to ensure everyone delivers the same information.

  • Consider possible scenarios and draft content ahead of time. By preparing internal notifications, press releases and Website content in advance, the team will be able to provide quick and thoughtful responses when needed.

Implementation:

Many cities and some rural areas are already responding to COVID-19 cases. Best practice recommendations for implementation include:

  • Establish a communication hub. Create a Web page to serve as the central COVID-19 communication hub and post all related information in one centralized location. When it is necessary to share information in several places, use the hub URL as the place to go for more information. All information posted in other channels should be consistent and also link back to this centralized resource.

  • Remember information is changing frequently. It’s important to include dates on all information and review all information daily to ensure accuracy.

  • Adhere to HIPAA guidelines. While hospitals want to be as transparent as possible, it is also important to maintain patient privacy requirements. Be prepared to educate the media and community about the importance of confidentiality.

  • Provide policy updates. It’s helpful to share information about changes to hospital visitation, physician office visits, elective surgery scheduling and other policies as a result of the coronavirus.

  • Offer care guidelines. Patients need clear guidance about when, where, and how they should seek testing and care. Also share specific ways that family can communicate with hospitalized loved ones. Many hospitals are offering online FAQs, screening tools and virtual symptom checkers.

  • Dispel Myths. Use all communication channels as a way to educate the public at the appropriate time. Consider dedicating social media, press releases, letters to the editor and even ad space for public service announcements. Messages to communicate include CDC recommendations, hospital preparations, and local testing locations.

Additional COVID-19 Communication Resources

AHA Resources

CDC Communication Resources

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