COVID-19 Communications Lessons Learned

By The SHSMD Team posted 06-03-2020 10:20 AM

During a SHSMD webinar on the new normal, a panel of marketing and communications experts from Michigan Medicine shared their experiences on hospital marketing and communications during COVID-19 and what they expect the next normal to look like.

The expert panel featured:

  • Rose M. Glenn, chief communications & marketing officer.
  • Denise Beaudoin, senior director of digital strategy and engagement.
  • Sally Liaw, senior director for executive communications.
  • Mary Masson, senior director of public relations.
  • Rebecca Priest, senior director of marketing.

COVID-19 Microsites

Attendees shared thoughts on how they created dedicated COVID-19 microsites. Some of the features they were most proud of included:

  • A COVID-19 symptom checker solution that they developed in two weeks.
  • Data analytics dashboards that gathered, consolidated and visualized all COVID-19 related customer engagement data across multiple hospitals within a large system.
  • Fast implementation of a COVID-19 community hotline.
  • Resources for community needs of any kind, not just medical, such as information on getting groceries and handling mortgages and student loans.
Attendees also shared their biggest lessons. These included:

  • Timely and transparent communications.
  • The value of creating quick videos on cell phones that media were eager to use.
  • The importance of employee feedback and using multiple channels (a pop-up version on the intranet, a widget on the internal COVID-19 site and email) to solicit feedback.

Responding to Misinformation

Some of the webinar attendees were challenged by misinformation. One media outlet misrepresented the way that certain hospitals were responding to the patient care needs of a local prison. The hospitals in question addressed that by sending the facts to the media.

At Henry Ford Health System, an internal memo on worst-case scenario resource allocation was leaked to the media and rapidly went viral, often with a sensationalist negative spin. The communications team immediately decided to deal aggressively with the situation and added the necessary context about how hospitals needed to be ready for the worst-case possibilities and that other hospitals were using it as a model for their own guidelines. While the situation was unpleasant, immediately engaging with the media and providing the context necessary to understand the memo turned the messaging into a positive.

Henry Ford had to do the same kind of contextualization again when the media reported on the health system’s high number of COVID-19 positive tests among staff. They engaged with the media to emphasize the fact that Henry Ford prioritized testing employees and that was why the numbers were so high. Over time, this emphasis on providing the proper context showed its effectiveness as the number of decontextualized or sensationalist stories declined. 

Messaging about Emergent Care

Like staff at many hospitals and health systems, participants have seen a worrisome decline in the number of patients with serious health conditions going to the hospital to seek care. Many consumers are afraid of contracting COVID-19 at the hospital and either don’t go or wait until a serious condition becomes an emergency. Marketing and communication professionals are emphasizing the message that it is safe to go to the hospital for emergency services and, depending on their community’s and hospital’s individual situation, are urging patients to resume elective services for serious conditions. 

Michigan Medicine has a comprehensive “gear-up” campaign targeted to patients and referring physicians that includes a TV ad.

Information and Resources for Messaging about Emergent Care

Recent data shows that nearly half of all Americans have skipped or delayed care of some kind. While most reported that their condition did not worsen because of the delay, 11 percent reported that it did. Approximately 70 percent of those who skipped care expect to resume care in the next 3 months. 

The American Hospital Association released a national advertising campaign with the message that hospitals are ready to provide emergent care and released the members-only Pathways to Recovery, which provides resources and information on reopening. SHSMD has prepared a resource digest on the post-pandemic landscape specifically for health care strategists, including health care marketing, planning and business development professionals. The American Society for Health Care Engineering also has resources on hospital and health care facility reopening and recovery.

The American Hospital Association, American College of Surgeons, American Society of Anesthesiologists and Association of periOperative Registered Nurses created a roadmap for resuming elective surgery.

Hospitals and health systems are promoting reopening and the importance of seeking emergent care. In addition to Michigan Medicine, other health systems with dedicated web pages include:

To discuss marketing, communications, strategy and more with fellow health care strategists and share materials, please visit MySHSMD.

If you have stories to share about your organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please share here.