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Questions to Strengthen Your Internal Crisis Communications

Learn five questions you need to address as you put together your internal crisis communications plan.

As a health system, it is a priority to support and connect with your care team and support staff during a crisis. Knowing answers to these five questions can help you move important information quickly amongst your internal team.

Communicating Internally During a Crisis

Healthcare marketing and communication professionals are working diligently to reduce confusion and worry, as well as stop inadvertent spread of misinformation by implementing a solid internal crisis communication plan. As we’re learning with COVID-19 right now, creating and following a plan becomes even harder when information changes day-by-day, and even hour-by-hour. Flexibility is key.

As you implement your crisis communication plans, knowing the answers to these five questions will help reduce chaos and provide your organization with accurate and timely information.

#1: Who Needs Information?

Ideally, you have time to assess the layers of communication you will need before you need them. Even if the crisis has begun to unfold, understanding the groups of individuals needing information can save you crucial time. Your internal audiences may consist of:

  • Individuals working on campus during the crisis
  • Individuals working off site during the crisis
  • Staff who are expecting to come into work
  • Team members who will not report to work
  • Physicians with privileges at your health system
  • Board members
  • Vendors
  • Volunteers

#2: What Do They Need to Know?

Not all of your internal audiences need the same information. You’ll need a plan for both essential and nonessential staff.  Determine what to tell your team and how to balance privacy and disclosure. Ask your managers what questions or concerns they’ve heard from staff. Address those questions on a large scale. Anticipating the information your teams need to know allows you to communicate proactively — so you can prevent problems or miscommunication.

Activate your incident command center to coordinate communications during an emergency. Rely on your command center to organize communications coming in from your local emergency response teams, government, and your staff. Use your command center’s strengths to build a hierarchy of responses about operations, logistics, planning, and support in a logical and efficient way.

Initial Communication

Your internal team will need to know about:

  • Benefits – Notify your teams about what they can expect regarding pay, previously planned time off, and related information.
  • Community resources – Share information that can help your internal teams’ well-being to keep them safely at home or safely report to and from work
  • Working expectations – Clearly state who you expect to work on site, who should work remotely, and who should not work. Explain why these policies are in place and how long you anticipate they will last.
  • Staff protocols – Communicate your process for individuals who get sick. Do you expect them to stay home or work? What steps or processes do staff need to follow before returning to work?
  • Patient care protocols – Ensure everyone on your team knows your health system’s protocols regarding patient care. Eliminate confusion since each state and facility may have different rules for testing or patient care.
  • Public messaging – Be transparent about what you’re communicating to the public through your website and other digital platforms as well as what you’re communicating to the media. This helps your internal team share correct information with the public. Your internal teams will value hearing from you first, not from news stations or social media.

Ongoing Communications

As your messaging continues to evolve, be sure to communicate:

  • Action plan – List what your organization is doing to ensure the safety of your internal team, patients, visitors, and community.
  • Building changes – Keep your internal team up to date by communicating facility changes, such as temporary testing sites or rezoning of departments
  • Census updates – Share your patient volume and capacity with individuals who can use this information to improve patient care and make the appropriate staffing accommodations.
  • Staffing updates – Inform your team on what they can expect during the crisis. How long with their shifts be? What can they expect when they arrive to work? Define roles and how your team members can make the most significant impact while protecting their own health.
  • Supply status – Communicate your current resources, so people know what is available. Clarify items you need to improve patient care and how to best allocate supplies that are low in stock. Tell your team if and how you’re working with neighboring hospitals to improve patient care in your community.
  • Your success – Remind your team of your mission and purpose as a health care system. During a crisis, it is important to celebrate your progress to continue the positive momentum and cohesion amongst your team.

#3: How Will They Receive Communication?

Evaluate your platforms for communication. What technology is in place that you can use during a crisis? If your technology becomes unavailable, what is your backup plan? Successful ways to communicate with your internal teams include:

  • Overhead announcements – Use your facility’s public address (PA) system to make quick statements that everyone needs to hear.
  • In-person updates – Work with managers or designated communication teams to provide verbal updates to front-line staff.
  • Group text – Use for short, concise messages that need to go out quickly.
  • Phone tree – Create and use a phone tree to efficiently relay brief messages to a group of people. Create a script to help people pass on accurate information.
  • Email – Securely communicate updates that are important but do not require immediate action.
  • Intranet – Dedicate a page or section of your intranet to crisis communication. Many people do not have time to sift through emails, especially when emails can quickly become out of date. Your intranet is an effective, searchable channel to communicate changes to a procedure, visiting hours, or staffing to all internal teams.
  • Website – Share public updates on your website, check out these resources for crisis communications on your site.
  • Social media – Shape the message you want to communicate through social media and set clear policies and procedures for your internal teams to follow. Make sure your social media team knows where to send inquiries and how to best address the questions coming in from your community.

#4: When Will They Get Updates?

Prioritizing what information you need to share and how frequently to share it helps establish a process for when a course of action is necessary. Depending on the length of your crisis, consider communicating:

  • As needed – Relay urgent information immediately
  • Hourly – Communicate critical information that impacts patient care and staff
  • Daily – Send a daily recap to all internal teams by email. Consider having separate distribution lists for your different internal audiences. This can help you craft and communicate information relevant to each group. Update your intranet each day to include information for all internal audiences.
  • Weekly – Summarize the week, concerns, and need-to-know information for the upcoming days and weeks.
  • End of the crisis – Inform your team of the impact of the crisis, acknowledge their sacrifices and teamwork, and share your recovery plan.

#5: Where Can They Go to Get Answers to Their Questions?

Questions will arise even with the most informative communications in place. Use your intranet as a tool to help people submit questions and get answers promptly. Save time by creating a page on your intranet that provides correct messaging to questions your front-line teams hear frequently.

Evaluate & Evolve Your Communication Plan

Once the crisis is over, take time to review your process. Identify areas you would iterate on in a future event. Continue updating your plans as your health system changes and evolves.

Elizabeth Boenish

Web Content Strategist & Writer

Questions to Strengthen Your Internal Crisis Communications