PR and Communications

Provider Communications During a High-Impact Event

There are few parallels to the COVID-19 situation that marketing leaders can draw from, but the 2014 Ebola outbreak is one that holds several key lessons for how to best communicate. Paul Szablowski was a Senior Vice President at Texas Health Resources (the Ebola epicenter in the US) during that troubling time. He shared his first-hand experience at the opening session of the recent Virtual HITMC Event.

A Multidisciplinary Team

Szablowski stressed how important it is to bring other stakeholders from other departments onto the communication response team. Having experts who can talk to the facts and the science, is critical to providing accurate information. Plus, having multiple perspectives is always a good thing.

Choose Words Wisely

Although the media called the situation a “crisis”, Szablowski decided to stop calling their group the “crisis communications team” which had a negative connotation. Instead they started referring to themselves as the “rapid response team” – a much more positive and forward-thinking label. It might not seem like much, but it helped the people who were working the Ebola situation for weeks.

Compassion + Facts

Just sharing facts about the situation wasn’t enough. Szablowski explained how important it was to infuse compassion into all their messaging in addition to the clinical facts. This compassion took many forms, including being sensitive to the fact that many who were caring for Ebola patients (and suspected Ebola patients) were isolated from their families.

Keys to Managing Your Reputation

During crisis (or a “high impact event” as Szablowski calls it), it is the responsibility of marketing and communication leaders to manage/maintain the reputation of their organization. His five points on how to do this were spot on.

Don’t Forget Your Internal Audience

Szablowski and his team made it a point to check in with teammates during the Ebola outbreak. They would ask how people were doing and how their families were coping. This simple conversation not only helped support internal staff, it also helped provide valuable perspective that shaped future communications. After all, the emotions and concerns express by teammates were a microcosm of what the community was experiencing.

This one tweet summed up Szablowski’s Virtual HITMC presentation perfectly.

Image Credit: Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

About the author


Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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