Coronavirus & Health Pandemic Preparation: Identifying Opportunities for Health Providers to Protect, Reassure and Lead

January 23, 2020

Global health leaders are on alert in early 2020 as infections from a new coronavirus, originating in Wuhan, China, increase. This new global health concern brings back memories of the 2014 Ebola Virus outbreakwhich originated in West Africa. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has implemented screening at several international airports and are taking proactive steps following the first confirmed patient case in the U.S. 

As we examine this current global health concern, we should reflect on the ever-present potential for a public health crisiswhich could also include severe flu, measles outbreak or other issues that impact a communityIt is important to consider the actions that communications leaders at health systems can take to demonstrate preparationmitigate risk and stand as leaders in the face of potential crisis. 

Engage Internal Stakeholders  

  • Empower nurses and other frontline caregivers. Reinforce confidence in their leaders and provide insights to protect themselves, deliver care and educate the community. 
  • Establish lines of communication related to the unique elements of a public health crisis. Health system leaders should deliver clear and timely information, listen to questions and provide updates. 
  • Evaluate training protocols and adapt the unique scenarios. For example, during the 2014 Ebola Virus, many frontline caregivers raised questions over access to, and procedures for usingor “donning and doffing personal protective equipment and other key resources. 

 Proactively Address Community Questions  

  • Be transparent in addressing concerns and countering misinformation. Proactive presentation of information, such as screening or supplemental precautions for employeeswill show proactive actions and provide education. 
  • Consider multi-channel outreach to reach key audiencesFrom in-facility posters and the messaging delivered by call centers to social, digital and traditional media, the voice of a trusted local health leader can positively influence the community. 
  • Maintain continuity of care and promote general health best practices. Wherever possible, reinforce a “business as usual” approach with sustained level of quality and by positioning leadership as a champion for public and community health.  

 Evaluate Issues Management Protocols and Response Plans 

  • Establish issues mapping and escalation triggers to demonstrate when action is needed. Knowing the points of escalation that would necessitate a response enables leaders to act quickly and with confidence. 
  • Develop issues communications-specific response plans to guide role and communications if needed. Identifying issues ahead of time and practicing roles, response actions, audience touchpointscommunications steps and other elements will provide clarity in time of crisis. 
  • Anticipate the need to adapt to changes and coordinate with the most important stakeholders. The operational and communications needs will change quickly; ensuring the right mindset and team are in place to match the moves is vital. 

Throughout the 2014 Ebola Virus concern, clear, timely and proactive communication was critical to empowering and reassuring care providers on the front lines and maintaining confidence among patients and local communities across the U.S. As we look to future public health challenges, whether this coronavirus or a future challenge, reflecting on lessons of the past and preparing for the future is key. 

Luke is a Senior Vice President in Ketchum’s health services sector, based in Washington, D.C. He has counseled leading hospitals and health systems through a wide range of communications challenges and opportunities, including the 2014 Ebola Virus outbreak. He is passionate about engaging key internal and external stakeholders to communicate the value that health systems and innovators can bring to communities across the country. He is also in awe of public health officials for their efforts to address health challenges in local communities and across the globe.