Your customer service teams are getting calls. Your website analytics reveal rising site searches related to new health concerns. In a healthcare crisis, your community turns to you for vital information. Here are tips on how to educate and inform.
The Web is Your Most Valuable Communication Tool in a Crisis
When you need to communicate quickly and update messaging to keep up with rapidly changing events, your website is a valuable tool. It’s always “on.” It’s available to the masses. It’s accessible in a second. And, most importantly, it’s quick and easy to update.
Staying on top of rapidly changing information might be hard for your team, but do the best you can to follow a few reliable sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or National Institutes of Health (NIH) to share with your web visitors. As a team, evaluate new information you hear inside and outside the organization to ensure you’re providing the most relevant information to the public.
If resources and time are tight, link to those organizations or your own state health department, which are constantly updating their own sites with public-facing information.
Focus on Consumer Needs
Keeping consumers at the forefront of your communication strategy is always important. In a crisis, it’s essential. Before you post a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) FAQ or a press release, ask yourself whether it’s the right content for your audience.
Consider what your audience needs to know.
- What’s already been shared in the national and local news? What questions are people still asking?
- What common concerns and questions are your staff hearing from patients, visitors, and others in your community?
Common Questions During a Healthcare Crisis
Questions your community may have for you during a healthcare crisis include:
- What is your organization’s plan to handle this crisis?
- How are you monitoring patients coming to your hospitals and clinics?
- What should I know about this illness/crisis? What are the symptoms? When do I need to see a doctor? How will I be treated?
- How can I protect myself and my family?
Create Readable Content
Only 12% of adults in the United States have a proficient level of health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). That means most people have difficulty understanding and using health information to make informed choices and access medical services. In times of stress or anxiety, even people with high levels of health literacy may face challenges. Why? Because intense emotions impede our understanding of complex words and phrases.
So, when communicating about a healthcare crisis, it’s even more important to create readable healthcare content:
- Aim for a reading level of 9th grade or lower
- Consider alternative formats, such as infographics and videos to help reach more people
- Speak directly to your readers
- Use plain language and words that people without a medical degree will understand
- Use subheadings and bulleted lists to make content easy to scan
Examples of Ways to Communicate & Educate
As of this publication, the COVID-19 outbreak is sweeping headlines. You have a recognizable and trustworthy brand that people in your community look to for relevant, timely, and accurate information. See how other healthcare marketers like you are using their websites to communicate and educate.
Connect People With Reliable Information
In early March 2020, Cape Cod Healthcare used their editorial brand, Cape Cod Health News, to publish an article titled “Who can you trust for coronavirus information?”.
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Parkview Medical Center created a frequently asked questions list for visitors to read and share, answering questions about Ebola treatment, symptoms, and care.
Engage Your Experts
Cone Health shared COVID-19 information through their editorial brand, Wellness Matters. A Q&A with infectious disease specialist Cynthia Snider, MD, allowed a conversational approach to sharing information on the virus, its symptoms, and prevention.
In Texas, University Health System’s Health Focus SA shared a video with infectious disease specialist Jason Bowling, MD, answering frequently asked questions.
Leverage Outside Resources
Cone Health also published a list of reliable sources for COVID-19 information, such as the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. UNC Health did something similar, but with links to up-to-date news releases on cases in their state.
Altru Health’s webpage on the coronavirus connects website visitors with trustworthy sources, including the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Partner With Local Media
Reach out to local media, such as newspapers and TV stations, to talk about the crisis and what people in your community can do to be safe. Work with the media to direct people to your website for additional information and updates.
What Did We Learn?
When the crisis is over, reflect on the experience and what your team learned. Ask yourselves:
- What was the feedback from the community?
- What went well? What was challenging?
- How can we improve crisis communication in the future?
Getting through a healthcare crisis is a major milestone. Use this opportunity to build a plan, establish confidence in your employees and community, and learn how you can better communicate with your patients to keep them healthy and educated.