They've Got Questions

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders News , October 24, 2007

It doesn't matter that your hospital has worked diligently to reduce infection rates or that your staff does everything right when it comes to patient safety--once the media gets hold of a story such as drug-resistant bacteria--superbugs that supposedly cause more deaths than AIDS--it's time to retool your communications strategy. When reporters trot out dramatic words and scary statistics, it raises all sorts of questions in the minds of the public--and your patients.

The fact is that healthcare consumers have more questions than do consumers of any other good, product or service -- and the answers to those questions are literally a matter of life and death. They want to know if it's safe to give cold medicine to their children. They want to know about drug interactions and side effects. They want to know if they really need a mammogram or even a yearly physical and whether or not red wine is really good for them. And, of course, they want to know that they'll be safe if they come to your hospital.


And it's you they'll turn to for answers.


Some healthcare organizations are putting themselves out front on these and other hot topics, making sure they are positioned as the experts in their field with answers that consumers can trust. Lots of Web sites have frequently asked questions pages. And some of them are quite good. But a few healthcare organizations are taking their mission to educate the public a step further.


The Mayo Clinic responded to the recent flurry of media coverage of MRSA on its Web site. Linked from the main page, it includes an overview on the topic of infectious diseases written by one of its doctors and links to other content on the clinic's site, from antibiotics to hand washing to West Nile Virus.


According to a Washington Post article, a "small but growing number" of physicians are taking more time to answer their patients' questions on a variety of topics as part of a trend dubbed "shared decision-making."


And Paul Levy, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, reaches out to both internal and external audiences with his blog, Running a Hospital. Apparently, that effort has been successful enough that the organization has decided to duplicate it--CIO John Halamka has just launched his own blog.


So, what are you doing to inform and educate your customers? You probably have a communications plan in place, but there's one thing you might not do frequently enough: Take it out, dust it off, and update it whenever news of a "new" health crisis breaks.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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