For healthcare organizations, it’s not a matter of if a pr healthcare crisis occurs, but when. The entire world is not within your control — whether external or internal, there are forces that can create a spectrum of healthcare challenges for your organization’s varied stakeholders — patients, healthcare providers, board members, etc. Especially in today’s digital society, a crisis in healthcare can develop quickly and take on a life of its own. That’s why it’s vital to have crisis communication strategies in place — to effectively navigate both proactive and reactive crisis, reputation and business continuity pursuits.

What Role Does Public Relations Play in Healthcare Crisis Management?

What exactly is a PR crisis? Any negative event, review or issue that gains traction publicly. In the healthcare industry, it is often explained as an issue in an organization, hospital or clinic that becomes so severe, it threatens to significantly or permanently harm its brand reputation. Public relations is the plan — and subsequent execution — of communicating your organization’s message to the public to overcome a crisis in healthcare.

Common Types of Healthcare Crisis

A well-stated problem is half solved. Whether internal, external or general reputation management scenarios, your organization can prepare now for a variety of potential healthcare challenges and crises, such as personal/employee actions, natural disasters, bad press, social media backlash and whistleblowing. In order to anticipate, spot and navigate crises, consider these common types of crises in the healthcare industry.

Crisis on Cost of Care

The rising cost of healthcare is a complex issue for everyone to navigate — including hospitals and clinics. Effectively participating in conversations about the changing face of healthcare, establishing thought leadership, and educating target audiences as trusted sources of reliable information are key for healthcare organizations looking to execute a successful proactive PR strategy.

Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis is a growing threat to communities across the country. How should your healthcare providers respond if the public accuses them of contributing to the crisis? Proactively addressing the issue and providing tangible resources is key to ensuring your message resonates with target stakeholders — before during and after a potential healthcare crisis.

Crisis Due to Data Breaches

Hospitals, clinics and other healthcare organizations face serious risks from cybersecurity threats and data breaches. Patients’ personal, health and financial information can be leaked if a breach occurs. Having a health crisis communication plan in place for such events can help your organization quickly and successfully navigate a cybersecurity threat or data breach when every second counts.

Disaster Preparation

From fires and flooding to extreme temperatures and hurricanes, natural disasters occur everywhere. Even if your hospital or clinic isn’t directly impacted by a storm, closed roads and other shipping delays could impact your supplies, resources and patients. Overcoming a spectrum of disasters is a hospital crisis communication plan example that every health organization should have in place so every team member is informed and equipped to calmly fulfill their role, utilize communication channels and continue providing care to those who need it most.

What Are The Effects of a PR Crisis on Your Healthcare Business?

While a PR crisis has a serious and immediate impact on your healthcare business, it can also have lasting effects. Understanding these can better prepare your organization by identifying which areas should take priority.

Healthcare consumers and patients want to interact with trusted organizations. When your company is caught in a healthcare crisis PR storm, that trust is put in extreme jeopardy, potentially losing clients, partners and investors. In short, it can create a damaging disconnect between your organization and its key stakeholders, and undermine your corporate communications strategy, rendering it a wasted investment. Limiting the fallout related to a pr healthcare crisis is essential to surviving and rebuilding brand reputation.

Tips on How to Improve Crisis Management in Healthcare

Taking the time to understand healthcare crisis examples and develop crisis communication strategies for your own organization, pre-crisis, is an invaluable investment for the long run. In fact, a Deloitte study found that evaluating key risk scenarios (50%) and engaging multifunctional teams (46%) are significant steps taken by businesses practicing crisis preparedness. Well-versed in crisis communication and reputation management, Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) operates from the understanding of one universal truth: Every organization will have to manage a crisis at some point. Crisis communication planning is preparing for the worst so your company ends up with the best outcome. In a PR crisis, time is of the essence and timing is everything. A quick initial response often sets the tone for the entire process. Acting hastily without a plan can intensify the situation while responding appropriately and rationally based on existing strategic healthcare communications can set a course for success. To develop your own pr healthcare crisis plan, consider these tips:

Begin With the Disaster Plan

Start at the beginning by creating a healthcare pr disaster plan that leverages the media as an asset, not an adversary to your organization. Your crisis plan should include:

Crisis communication coordinators – The people who decide the organization is facing a PR emergency that requires disaster plan execution.
Spokespeople – The person or people who communicate with the media and public.

Once your immediate plan is in place, you can expand on it.

Build Your Crisis Management Team

A pre-designated crisis team allows team members to be informed of crisis processes and aware of communication protocols. Make sure one or more people on the team are well-versed in healthcare PR and social media management to handle monitoring and posting.

Provide Media Communication Training to Your Employees

Even though your plan includes designated spokespeople, you will want to communicate healthcare PR and media guidelines to all of your organization’s employees as well. Give staff a phrase to use if media should approach them for comments, such as “our media representative will answer all questions.” This will avoid mixed messages and protect employees from media barrage.

Designate Spokespeople

Next, select qualified spokespeople to communicate with the media, patients and staff in an official capacity to ensure a singular, strong message is presented throughout a crisis. Consider the following spokespeople roles:

Media Spokesperson: Someone who is articulate and is able to handle emotional and stressful situations all while potentially being on camera or recorded.
Family Spokesperson: When needed, someone who can calmly and quickly inform affected families before the media reports the crisis.
Staff Spokesperson: A supportive and trusted staff member who can keep internal teams informed and positive.

Show Your Compassion by Apologizing and Accepting Responsibility

One of the most consistent tactics we’ve seen across all successful healthcare crisis examples is when organizations respond in a way that accepts complete ownership of the issue. Truthful, factual, forthcoming, professional and without blame is the way to handle crisis management in healthcare with integrity — and more importantly, extend that truth to stakeholders.

What Should You Avoid During A PR Crisis?

Understanding how to approach crisis and reputation management is as much about understanding what not to do or say as what should be done or said. Comprehensive planning takes time. As you plan, consider understanding the scenarios that may result in a crisis, the optics that may accompany that situation and the basics of when and how to respond.

Leveraging the expertise of a healthcare PR agency can help your organization develop personalized crisis communication strategies to prepare for a spectrum of proactive and reactive crises. As an experienced healthcare marketing agency, CSG can run your organization through potential scenarios to round out your crisis response plan and best prepare your entire team for the unexpected.

Don’t Lash Out

No matter how outlandish the circumstances, it is never a good idea to impulsively or emotionally respond or place blame during a PR health crisis communication situation. Strategic and educational messaging will result in far more effective healthcare PR and ensure it resonates with target audiences.

“No Comment” Isn’t Helpful

Not having answers to potential questions is never ideal during a healthcare crisis, but oftentimes a good answer truly can’t be given. Instead of utilizing the phrase “no comment,” which can easily be misconstrued as covering up or avoiding an issue, simply tell the truth — there is not enough information to give a solid response at the moment, and more information will be delivered as soon as it is received.

Avoid Rushing or Delaying Your Response

Crisis management in healthcare is all about timing. No response is better than a premature response that might need to be reversed or contradicted. However, delayed responses can cause further reputation damage. The best course of action: provide transparent and ongoing communication as soon as possible.

Do Not Dwell on The Situation

There are two certain truths when it comes to PR crises, they will occur and they will pass. Stakeholders can forgive and forget your organization’s mistake, but they won’t forget how the issue was handled. No matter how emotional the challenge is, remember to handle the situation the right way with strategy and sincerity — and without lashing out and blaming others.

FAQ About Handling Healthcare PR Crisis

What Are the Best Channels to Post a Press Release for Crisis Management?

The primary channel should first come from an organization’s main digital site, such as the news section of the website and secondary channels (e.g. social media) can be used to promote it.

What is the Best Way to Handle a Healthcare Crisis?

Crisis management in healthcare isn’t a generic solution. It is a from-the-ground-up initiative that should reflect both the strengths and specific considerations necessary for your leadership and the company at large.

How Should Health Companies Handle PR Crises?

Moving quickly, health organizations should be transparent, apologetic and action-oriented throughout a pr healthcare crisis.

Do All Healthcare Businesses Need a PR Agency?

No. However, leveraging experts skilled in crisis communication who can develop personalized health crisis communication for your organization can help you avoid and navigate a range of crisis scenarios as well as protect and bolster your brand reputation.

Leverage a Better Healthcare Crisis and Communication Strategy Moving Forward

Crisis communication planning is an investment in preparing for the worst so your company ends up with the best outcome. Even the most unexpected PR crises feel easier to navigate when you already have a rubric for what to say and do — the guesswork is gone and the plan is in place when time is of the essence.

As a healthcare PR agency, CSG helps organizations develop comprehensive reputation management and health crisis communication tactics that cover everything from identifying the people who need to be on the crisis team to frameworks for proactive and reactive scenarios.

Contact us today to discover how the CSG team can equip your team with the crisis communication strategies and reputation management tools needed to overcome challenges and navigate a spectrum of crises in healthcare scenarios.