June 22, 2021  |  Team Bloom

Healthcare PR and Crisis Communications in the Wake of COVID-19

Crisis communication is important in every industry—but it plays a crucial role in healthcare. With great communication, healthcare organizations can ensure the well-being of patients while continuing to provide high-quality care, build brand awareness, and manage their overall reputation. If crisis communication is not effective, however, it can create even more challenges—for patients, providers, and the community.

As a response to the challenges posed by COVID-19, we have seen first-hand how healthcare communication has become more streamlined than ever. Many hospitals, clinics, and health & wellness brands have adopted even more effective crisis communications practices thanks to specialized healthcare PR support.

Over the past year, PR agencies in particular, including Bloom Communications, have played large roles in changing the healthcare crisis communications conversation. A healthcare PR agency can assist in not only developing more effective crisis plans but also managing brand reputation with better crisis communication methods.

How Healthcare PR Impacted COVID-19

City street with billboard about healthcare.

Healthcare communication on public health outcomes is nothing new, but the high degree of uncertainty inherent to a novel disease like COVID-19 accentuated this impact all the more. Some ways that healthcare PR shaped the pandemic included:

  1. Advocating – By promoting preventative measures such as handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing, communicators fostered social responsibility and played a role in curbing infection rates.
  2. Informing – By explaining the benefits of vaccination and notifying the public of vaccine availability and the location of vaccination centers, healthcare PR teams helped mitigate virus transmission and acquisition.
  3. Assuring – By articulating a clear COVID-19 management strategy, organizations alleviated public concerns, and even enhanced their image by building community trust.
  4. Leading – By conveying their crisis management strategy internally and modeling sound leadership practices, managers alleviated the concerns of many of their employees and equipped them with the tools they need to perform under unprecedented stress.

With so many impacts of healthcare crisis management, exercising the best communication practices is clearly a must.

Of course, effective healthcare communication is difficult to achieve in such a rapidly changing environment. New insights surrounding COVID-19 emerged so quickly that many organizations had—and still have—difficulty staying up to date with best practices. For some organizations, this uncertainty made it difficult to continuously modify their protocol, much less convey it to their audience.

Healthcare PR teams have had to adapt to:

  • Reporting on means of transmission
  • Continuously varying state and federal regulations
  • Newly discovered treatments and best practices
  • Responding to staff and supply shortages
  • New understanding of how the virus works

The dynamic nature of the pandemic certainly provided a challenge for those tasked with conveying their organizations’ crisis management strategy, but it also heightened the need for frequent, consistent communication from healthcare PR teams.

‌Based on these encouraging developments, we can expect an increasing number of healthcare organizations to work toward establishing more streamlined and reliable crisis communications methods. Current trends suggest that healthcare crisis communication will become increasingly multidisciplinary, inclusive, digitized, and streamlined as the global community continues to fight COVID-19.

Improving Healthcare Crisis Communication

Because quality healthcare PR is both essential to public wellbeing and difficult to achieve in such a rapidly evolving climate, a close look at how to exercise healthcare communication best practices is a must.  When deciding on your organization’s messaging, consider these tips for responsible healthcare crisis communication:

  1. Be trustworthy – As obvious as it is, credibility is an essential part of communication. Research has identified four components of human behavior that are known to build trust: empathy, honesty, dedication, and expertise. If a healthcare PR member lacks any of these, their ability to communicate is likely to suffer.
  2. Don’t speculate – Despite it being a common human tendency, communicators must resist the urge to provide an answer to every question, and must not deviate from what they know to be true. By refusing to speculate, healthcare PR teams can stop the spread of misinformation and can curb public unease.
  3. It’s OK not to know everything – The dynamic information climate surrounding the pandemic means that there will often be questions that healthcare PR members cannot answer, but that doesn’t remove their responsibility to answer questions that they are able to. While abstaining from speculation, communicators should diligently provide substantial answers to questions within their reach and frame their knowledge within the broader context of what they don’t know.
  4. You don’t have to be an expert in virology, just on what your organization is doing – In the midst of such honest framing, communicators should have their organization’s broader mission in mind. While giving clear, specific answers on their organization’s protocol is vital, healthcare PR teams should focus even more on the overarching purpose statement put forth by their executives, and provide the specifics within that context. Statements like, “Our organization is committed to the safety of our employees” achieve this effect, and can serve as the framework for more specific details.

The Role of Market Research

Laptop with reporting dashboard.

PR professionals have played a pivotal role in healthcare crisis communications. By helping hospitals, care homes, and other healthcare organizations develop strategic plans to tackle high-stake situations such as COVID-19, communications services have been the invisible glue holding many healthcare organizations together.

An experienced healthcare PR agency or communications agency can provide you with in-depth market research to give you a better understanding of how people’s beliefs and attitudes can influence their behavior.

By providing you with thorough quantitative and qualitative market research, PR services can help you:

  • Strengthen your organization’s crisis communications services
  • Understand patient behavior
  • Decide how you want to grow your organization
  • Determine sustainable long-term and short-term goals
  • Identify your competitors and ways you can compete with them

Quantitative market research, which involves amassing numerical data, can be used to analyze and break down the frequency of beliefs and behaviors. Methodologies include polls, online surveys, and on-site surveys.

On the other hand, qualitative market research involves collecting non-numerical data such as text, audio, and video. Typically collected through focus groups, customer journey mapping, and in-depth interviews, this type of data will illustrate the beliefs and opinions that drive people to make their decisions. It will tie the ends of qualitative research together and allow you to gain a more thorough understanding of why a particular group acts the way they do.

Effective Communication in Your Organization

Once you have a clear understanding of why people act the way they do, a PR firm will collaborate with you to develop an actionable strategy for public relations. By evaluating all possible consequences of each planned decision, the PR firm will help you protect your organization’s reputation and navigate crisis situations.

Crisis communications services will also conduct audits of your existing communications system to identify opportunities for growth. These audits help you recognize your current shortcomings and successes and will allow you to work closely with a PR agency to develop ways to improve and strengthen the existing infrastructure.

How Bloom Communications Can Help

Bloom Communications is an experienced research-based PR firm that can provide you with deep insight into the market you’re targeting. With Portland & Austin locations, Bloom has provided crisis communication services to a variety of organizations across the U.S. and globe.

By providing you with thorough market research, we can help you solve your organization’s specific challenges and develop a healthcare public relations strategy. We will craft tailor-made, actionable recommendations based on our research and analysis to help you reach your goals.

Interested in knowing about how Bloom can help you? Get in touch to learn more.

Topics covered in this insight: healthcare, public relations, healthcare marketing, pr, healthcare pr, pandemic, COVID19

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