Frank Lococo, vice president of marketing and communications at Nebraska Medicine, the primary hospital network affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, shared his insights in a SHSMD podcast on successful communications during COVID-19 and how Nebraska Medicine acted as a trusted information source.
Truth, Transparency and Timeliness
The primary piece of advice Lococo shared was to develop a plan and practice constantly. The more an organization practices, the easier and better the execution and the outcome. The other factor that made Nebraska Medicine so ready to respond was that they dedicated considerable time and effort in building and fostering collaboration between the hospital system and the university. The underlying principles for both the hospital network and the University of Nebraska were:
- Communicating the truth.
- Being transparent.
- Being very timely with information.
The University of Nebraska was already known for its expertise in infectious disease and this, too, helped reinforce and strengthen the relationship between the academic medical center and the hospitals. Because the medical center and university had already invested a good deal of time and effort into building a strong relationship, staff at both organizations were able to coordinate their marketing and communications response very smoothly.
The planning process identified the key stakeholders, internally and externally, and had a set of guiding principles for each audience, including care providers, staff, local and state governments, the communities in their primary and secondary service areas and, because of the University of Nebraska’s expertise in infectious disease, even national media and their audiences. The governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, frequently consulted the network’s subject matter experts.
In order to communicate with staff, Lococo said that to reduce friction for employees trying to locate information, they put as much as possible on their public-facing website, including materials that other hospitals and health systems could use. “We also have moved to our intranet front page being very much our COVID warehouse for information once you are on campus. We also implemented weekly Zoom town hall meetings that we've done for the last nine weeks where our executive team and our infectious diseases physicians and nurses have been providing very timely information to keep people informed. And we've received amazing feedback on how staff is admiring the transparency and the timeliness in the communications.”
They’ve gotten the same appreciation from the public and have gotten considerable feedback expressing appreciation for the transparency and timeliness of both the real-time updates to information and the continual enhancements to user experience on the website. This transparency and responsiveness has made them, Lococo says, “the source of truth for our community and our state.“ One of the keys to their transparency is openly acknowledging what they don’t know and that the situation is dynamic and evolving. Lococo remarked, “I think people can understand when you say, ‘I don't know, but the science indicates this, or based on past experience, we think this will be happening.’” Nebraska Medicine also put a human face on its communications by using the website as a platform for some of the “very personal and poignant stories” from physicians and staff members.
Lococo credits this transparency and truth with helping to earn public trust and drive traffic to their site. Between January and March 18, 2019, there were approximately 300,000 total users on their website. During the same period for 2020, there were four million total users.
Ramping Back Up and Consumer Mindsets
Lococo describes the return to elective surgeries and ramping up ambulatory care as being like a dimmer switch rather than an off-on light switch. The COVID-19 pandemic had profound impacts on consumer mindsets and their financial situations. Even if all the hospital logistics for testing, PPE, ICU beds and ventilators are in place, people are afraid of contracting COVID-19 if they go to a hospital for care. In addition, some consumers don’t want to undergo a procedure during a time when visitors are restricted. Many consumers have lost their jobs and health insurance. Others are cutting back on spending because they are afraid of losing their job or have been furloughed and don’t want to incur deductible or co-pay expenses.
Because of these factors, Nebraska Medicine is doing consumer research, trying to understand the consumer mindset and create strategies and messaging to mitigate those concerns. In order to reach the right people at the right time, Lococo plans an integrated multi-channel campaign.
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For more information to help your hospital or health system’s COVID-19 response, visit SHSMD’s collection of resources for marketing, communications, business development and planning. The AHA and SHSMD collaborated to create Resources for COVID-19 Communications.
SHSMD’s information and education resources for transparency for hospitals and health systems includes: