How to prepare for effective communication during medical crisis in a health care work place

Executive summary

It is important for health care organizations to embrace transparency and intricately carry out preparations when they when they are faced with crises. This is the only way health care organizations can manage to survive and thrive after such ordeals. In reference to a various research studies, this document outlines the key communication plans that are useful to health care organizations in situations of crises. These include risk assessment, designing and defining critical functions, protecting patient privacy, relationship building, practice drills, and developing and delivery of transparent messages.

Crises are inevitable in health care and it manifests itself across a wide spectrum ranging from manufacturers of medical devices to health department. Health care professionals engage on a daily basis with patients with varied kinds of crises, where some are victims of cancer, terminal illnesses and even those that undergo transplants. More often than not, health care organizations undergo through their own crises. In contrast to other industries, the crises within health care are unique to health care industry. These include issues to do with malpractice suits, recalls of drugs and medical devices as well as violations of health care regulations. However, the fate of every crisis whether it brings goodwill or bankruptcy, depends specifically on how health organizations prepare and communicate such situations (Klein, 2007).

There are health organizations that are required regulations to have crises plans to guide their response in the event of a crisis. These organizations are required to undertake periodic drills by responding to simulated crisis such as plane crashes or bioterrorism attacks. Nevertheless, planning and communication crisis should not be limited to this because crises are frequent in occurrence than other public disasters. In this regard, this paper discusses the how to prepare communication plans for use during crisis situation by considering the relevant health care challenges thereof.

Risk assessment

The first step in any planning process is to carry out research which in this context is risk assessment. It is important to carry out risk assessment to ascertain the possible factors that could affect the perception of the public or various audiences. While it is impossible for health care to predict every situation that may result to a crisis, it is important to understand and know the potential risk factors that may result to the same and formulate counter measures to address the crisis when it occurs. For example, engaging health care stakeholders in the assessment of internal risks in the organizations can help to mitigate any potential risks before the public realizes about them. Additionally, involvement of third parties in risk assessment may be of significant help because such assessment is likely to be objective as compared to when it is conducted internally.

Define and assign

Whereas risk assessment is consequential, communication plans that seek to address specific situations in shallow detail may not be significant in attending to an actual crisis. The possibility of facing a crisis that is different from the simulated systems cannot be underestimated. It is therefore important to define and assign a plan to a potential crisis considering all the factors that may trigger change of events. On the other hand, studies have suggested that a communication plan that targets a specific crisis by outlining specific action plans have a very slight possibility of being valuable. Experts in crises management propositions that rigid plans are ineffective for crises given their uncertain nature and this holds true even for crisis communication plans (Caron, 2007).

Patient privacy

Confidentiality of patient information is a very important aspect for health care organizations because it helps in maintaining public trust. Failure to secure patient data may result to serious damages that may water down public confidence as well result even to significant damages to the patients themselves. HIPAA in response have in place regulations that control patient information by giving patients more control of their information. It is a laudable goal to protect patient safety, the advancement in technology is making the process a nightmare. It is therefore imperative for health care organizations to communicate appropriately during crises by considering patient safety.  Protection of patient information is key in all undertakings of a health care organization and therefore a key consideration is the development of a crisis communication plan.

Make friends

Crises do not occur in vain. They have differential impacts on all stakeholders within a health care organization. These include clients, patients, physicians, vendors, regulatory bodies etc. The public is also affected by such crises and therefore it is important for health care organizations to establish relationships with all stakeholders to foster an understanding that can be significant in the healing processes in the event a crisis occurs. These relationships should be positive and should promote trust between the parties. This is to prevent the likelihood of blame games, power struggle as well as jurisdictional squabbles that may worsen situations of a crisis. The essence of this consideration is premised on the fact that pre-established true communication hasa positive effect on the outcome of crisis communication. Creating friendships prior to crisis occurrence can undoubtedly assist a health organization to bounce back to shape.

Practice and preparation

Practice and preparation comes after all the essential goals of a communication plan have been isolated and documented. The arrangement then ensures preparation activities are carried out and relevant personnel educated and coached to realize the communication plan successfully. This encompasses among other things the critical resources are provided for the relevant personnel for the task. The top executive or his equal should be undertaken through media training on how best to deliver. On issues that are technical and specialized in nature it is important to allow expert in a similar field to address the issue.

It is equally important to note that not only the executive members of health care organizations are supposed to prepare for effective communication for a crisis. Every stakeholder including employees should be able to support the process to ensure it becomes a success. Practice may involve occasional drills which may include both internal members as well as external communication partners. The results of these drills are significant for the review of the plan. Practice also ensures the staff and executives are educated about the crisis as well as the communication plan.

Message delivery

Transparency is one of the most important aspects during actual crisis communication. More often than not, the crises that occur are those that were unexpected, however, an organization may be lucky to face a crisis which it anticipated. In either case, transparency plays a critical role. The executive and the communicators should therefore be prepared to communicate a crisis at the earliest time possible because only then can the crisis be controlled. While sometimes it may be difficult to say the truth due to the fear of reprisal from affected parties, it is a moral obligation to say the truth. However, certain decisions at this point may call for the intervention of an attorney especially where legal issues arise (Crisis Communication, 2002). Communication should take into account the emotional context of the situation. Health care organization must communicate considering the emotional appropriateness of the message being delivered. In this regard, it is imperative to convey the message with utmost sincerity, compassion and reasonable empathy.


The emotional and highly personal aspect of medical crises makes them very different from other crises in other sectors. Due to this sensitivity, the inclusion of third parties such as advisors and experts is critical to the success of a crisis communication plan. It is important for a heath care organization to ensure sound analysis of risks and ergonomics in staffing to ensure crisis communication becomes effective. Training of personnel to deal with crisis communication is equally crucial in implementing crisis communication plans. Crises are inevitable in healthcare and health care organization must therefore ensure they have crises communication strategies and frameworks to help in addressing crises when they occur.

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