Since COVID-19 spread around the world, we have seen organizations rush to communicate about how to contain the virus and how to get vaccinated after a vaccine was created. In this blog post, we will review some of the communication strategies organizations use and information about how you can create an effective healthcare preparedness communication plan for your own facility.
Build Credibility and Trust
If you want your community to trust the information you’re sharing, you need to be trustworthy. If you have no reputation, you can point others to the expertise of someone who does. Here are some ideas for building trust:
- Consider what your audience values
- Share relevant information
- Provide credible sources
- Have a consistent style, tone and voice
- Be authentic
Engage Community Leaders and Include Them In Communication Efforts From the Start
When getting the word out in a crisis, communication is everyone’s job – health departments, providers, schools and other community partners. The public is bombarded with messages every day, and you need to make sure your message is heard.
Create an integrated plan for coordinated messaging. By creating key messages that are communicated consistently through all channels, you’ll ensure your audience receives them clearly and accurately.
The following steps can help ensure that your message reaches the right audience:
- Engage community partners from the start. Your local government, school board and other partners may have a role to play in your communications efforts. Include them in strategic planning and decision-making, so they’re part of the solution from the beginning.
- Understand what influences people to accept or reject vaccines or medical facts. This understanding helps you plan communication strategies that address specific concerns, questions and information needs.
- Include trusted sources in your outreach strategy, such as local providers, school nurses or others who are respected by the community and can provide additional credibility to your message.
- Communicate using multiple platforms (e.g., SMS text, social media, radio, TV) to reach diverse audiences effectively with targeted messages for different populations/audiences.
Make Language As Simple As Possible Without Losing Meaning
When you communicate important messages through writing, you need to ensure that the person receiving your message understands precisely what you mean. Use plain language in all communications materials so that even people with low literacy levels can understand your messages.
In the medical field, it is particularly important to write in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. Patients and their families may not be familiar with the specialized language of healthcare, so making your meaning clear is even more important. Healthcare workers know this, but it can be hard to avoid jargon that is often used in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
One way to simplify language is to use “plain language” in your speech, writing and patient documentation.
What Is Plain Language?
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines plain language to mean “you are communicating with your audience in a way that’s understandable and direct.” It’s a form of communication that uses everyday words and sentences that are easy to understand. In plain language, there’s no room for filler or ambiguous terms that might confuse the audience or cause misunderstandings.
The goal of plain language is to communicate with people in a way they can actually understand, without relying on technical or specialized vocabulary that might be difficult for some people to follow. This might mean you need to simplify your messages more than you’re used to doing if you’re used to working with other healthcare professionals all day.
Use Personal Stories
Asking vaccine-hesitant Americans to get vaccinated is a bit like asking them to take a leap of faith — and they tend not to be very fond of doing that. It’s not enough for scientists to promise that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and necessary. Yes, the vaccines are all of those things, but there’s one major problem: The public’s trust in science is at an all-time low. A recent General Social Survey (GSS), a project of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, with principal funding from the National Science Foundation, found that 45% of Americans said they “only some” confidence in the scientific community.
The good news is that we can overcome this problem by telling personal stories about our experiences with vaccination. We’re more likely to listen to someone who has had experience with a vaccine than someone they see as parroting a community they don’t necessarily trust.
For continuity of care messages and emergency notifications around vaccines, use personal stories that show the vaccine is not just safe and effective but also necessary.
Put Patients In Control
Patients now want to interact with your office and your providers the same way they do with other organizations they frequent online: by viewing information, scheduling appointments, and sending messages when it suits them. Patients are looking for their providers to communicate with them in digital channels, and the ability to do so is growing rapidly. For example, there was a 31% increase in searches on Google for “text my doctor” from 2016 to 2021. The ability to communicate openly and freely with a provider is high on their wish list of digital capabilities.
Like Notivate Health’s end-to-end, cloud-based patient engagement platform, new digital technologies have given patients more control over their healthcare and communication with providers. Just as most consumers now expect to be able to book travel or order groceries online, they also expect to manage their healthcare digitally — which includes communication with their provider teams.
Design for the End-User
Communication is a two-way street. When sharing important information with your community, the best communicators are those who first consider who their audience will be.
– What do they already know?
– What do they need to know?
– How much time do they have?
– Where are they getting their information from?
– What are the most important parts of my message?
Look to partner with full-service companies with teams like that at InTouch’s Notivate Health, who have decades of experience developing scripts and surveys that are clear and concise and get results.
Constantly review assumptions about the audience to keep messaging on target. In today’s society, we are bombarded with more information than we can consume — so it’s important to know what information is relevant to your target audience and what isn’t.
Communication is the key to success in times of crisis and disasters. Healthcare facilities need to communicate with their patients, communities, first responders, healthcare professionals, policymakers, other stakeholders, and each other to save lives during a major pandemic or disaster. Public health officials worldwide need to be able to talk openly and often with their communities about what actions to take during these crises.
And while the panic surrounding Covid is fading as quickly as it arrived, what remains is the threat of another pandemic. Communities need to be ready to fight the next one. As we saw with Covid, fear, misinformation and a lack of communication were significant factors that inhibited the spread of critical information. A few simple strategies and techniques can help healthcare facilities get their communities vaccinated and healthy in time for the next pandemic or deadly outbreak.
The team at Notivate Health can help your healthcare facility get ready for the next critical health crisis. We have over two decades of experience crafting messages that reach patients, increasing continuity of care appointments and improving community health. Give us a call today for a short demo of our easy-to-use platform.