The Value of Healthcare Content Marketing During a Crisis

The Role of Content Marketing in a Crisis

A recent NRC Health survey found that 43% of people are turning to their local hospital or health system for information about the coronavirus. But what does that mean in the face of a public health crisis, such as the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic?

At Geonetric, we define content marketing as a strategic approach to create valuable, relevant, and consistent digital content with the goal of stimulating your audience and helping connect them with your brand. It means you have the chance to connect with your community with educational, informative content that helps them stay healthy.

Focus on Empathy, Not Conversions

Rather than focusing on driving conversions and appointments, use this time of crisis to create content that shares empathy, provides guidance, and tempers anxieties.

For example, you might consider articles about:

Answer Frequently Asked Questions

Your patients and community members have many questions during a healthcare crisis, and some of them might be coming in to your front-line staff on the phone or in the clinics.

Ask your team members what they’ve heard and brainstorm potential content marketing assets to respond, such as:

  • Video Q&As with experts
  • Infographics to help visually break down complicated information
  • Listicles for tips
  • How-to articles for guidance

If the answer isn’t robust enough to warrant a content marketing article, podcast, or video, consider adding it to a neatly organized FAQ section of your crisis communication hub.

Involve Your Stakeholders

In times of healthcare crisis, people want information they can trust. Invite your doctors and medical specialists to be part of your content creation as experts.

This could be in the form of a live Facebook video, or perhaps a question-and-answer-format blog post about myths and truths of the crisis. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics hosted a live Q & A session on Facebook to answer questions and concerns from their followers.

Coronavirus Q&A Live graphic from UIHC

It’s not just infectious disease experts that people want to hear from during a pandemic. Consider inviting your mental health professionals, nurses, dieticians, obstetricians, and physical therapists to provide information for various audiences on how to stay healthy.

Publish & Share

Once new articles and assets are published on your website or content marketing hub, get them ready to share across:

  • Social media channels – When a new story publishes, share it with your social followers to drive traffic and keep them informed
  • On your site dynamically – If possible, employ tagging and taxonomy functions to display content across relevant related pages of your website
  • Local media – Alert local newspapers and news stations of tips and expertise to share with your community
  • Your email newsletters – As you’re reaching out to your subscribers, be sure you’re updating them with relevant crisis articles and tips to stay healthy
  • Your intranet – Any articles that are written to help the community understand the crisis can have equal value to your colleagues and teammates, so share your recent blogs and content assets to your intranet, too

Have a Governance Plan in Place

If you follow the advice provided here, you’ll be spinning up lots of content. You’ll be answering questions and concerns, directing traffic for a community in need, and fulfilling requests from stakeholders to keep your audience informed. That’s why it’s so important to have a solid crisis content governance plan in place.

Not Sure Where to Start? Mine for Ideas

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, social media and search engines have seen a spike in traffic. Not just because more people are online, working remotely, and socializing digitally, but also because people are trying to learn everything they can about the virus.

As a healthcare marketer, you’ll want to seek out the types of queries people have about the crisis. You can start with your own social media accounts, by reviewing comments and questions people have left on your page or to your account.

You can also explore tools like Google Trends, which gives you glimpses into popular and on-the-rise searches. Likewise, Google Search Console and your website’s internal site search can help you understand what crisis-related information your site visitors are looking for.

Get Started

If you’re ready to put your content marketing to work during a crisis, but aren’t sure where to start, reach out to Geonetric. You’ll work with expert content strategists, writers, and developers who can help you build content marketing assets or a branded content marketing hub to support your marketing efforts, patients, and communities.

4 Ways to Ease Content Management During a Crisis

1. Update Your Editorial Style Guide

COVID-19 has introduced a new lexicon to our communities. Make communicating about the new virus and an unprecedented public health situation easier by creating an addendum to your style guide and sharing it across your organization.

Editorial style guides help your team develop content that’s clear, accurate, consistent, and reflective of your brand. If your team already has a style guide, it likely includes guidance around voice and tone, grammar, punctuation, formatting, and tricky words.

Consider adding entries on:

  • Acceptable ways to refer to the virus
  • Any new program, facility, or location names related to COVID-19 care
  • Definitions of terms that have become popular during the COVID-19 outbreak, such as “home quarantine” and “self-isolation,” and guidance on when to use them
  • How to refer to your telemedicine services
  • Preferred resources for COVID-19 information (for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Words to avoid

Need help? Review The Associated Press Stylebook’s new entry on coronaviruses.

2. Create a Central Resource — or 2

Build a crisis resource hub. The hub makes it easy for people to access information, and it also makes managing content easier for your marketing and communications team.

Consider two hubs — one on your internet for external audiences and another on your intranet for internal audiences.

3. Streamline Your Workflow

In the early days of a crisis, adrenaline may keep your team fueled through a surge of urgent communications. But as the initial phase passes, the need for communication stays steady, so streamline your workflow as much possible.

For general COVID-19 information, link to reputable national resources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can even embed their public health media library content about the coronavirus on your own site. This lets you connect your website visitors with accurate, up-to-date information while saving you and your stakeholders time.

Focus your time, and the time of your stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs), on content that’s specific to your organization or community. When sending content for internal review, help your SMEs provide efficient, effective feedback by giving clear expectations around the purpose of the content you’re creating, their role, and the deadline for their input.

4. Create a Content Review Schedule

As news breaks, recommendations are updated, policies change, classes and events move online, and volunteer or donation needs evolve, your team is creating a lot of content.

Make sure your community is seeing — and acting on — the most current information by establishing a crisis content review process.

It may not be realistic to review every page of COVID-19-related content every day. So set a schedule to review higher-priority content often, and other content less frequently.

For example, you may set schedules to review:

  • Pages that generate the most traffic
  • Pages older than a time range chosen by your team
  • Pages that contain the phrase “COVID-19” or “coronavirus”
  • Pages that mention a specific policy, need, or class that’s just changed

Create a plan that fits your content needs and your team’s capacity.

Documentation & Tracking

Document your plan, and then use a spreadsheet to keep track of:

  • Pages to review
  • Person responsible for page review
  • Review date
  • SME or stakeholder for content (if needed)
  • Changes made to published pages

Need Help?

Need help managing your COVID-19 content — or the hundreds of other web pages you’re responsible for? Geonetric’s healthcare writers and content strategists can help. Let us know how we can jump in as an extension of your team so you can meet your short-term and long-term marketing and communications goals.

Healthcare Marketing & Communications Strategies During COVID-19

Your to-do list is likely changing frequently. Geonetric’s digital marketing and content experts are here to help. Watch this free webinar and get guidance and recommendations combined with real-life examples of what your peers are doing to effectively communicate with their communities and internal teams.

Get answers to your top questions about:

  • Building a patient resource hub to house all of your expanding content related to the coronavirus
  • Creating new content that answer coronavirus-related questions
  • Updating and motivating internal teams through effective communications
  • Communicating with patients about expanding telemedicine services to prevent gaps in care
  • Navigating patients to the safest and most appropriate care setting
  • Pivoting non-COVID-19 communications and campaigns
  • Reassuring patients and keeping their needs top-of-mind while developing COVID-19-related content on your site
  • Updating Google My Business pages to reflect new hours and protocols and making updates to
  • And more

Use Telemedicine to Reach Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Increased Patient Demand

If your organization offers telemedicine services, you’re probably aware of the surge in virtual patient volume attributed to the spread of the coronavirus within the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House are advising Americans to stay home. The need for care and patient-provider communication has increased — both for people who are experiencing symptoms of the virus, and those who need routine care for other health concerns.

Expansion of Telemedicine Coverage

To slow the spread of COVID-19, especially among elderly patients who are at-risk for complications if they catch the virus, Medicare has expanded coverage of telehealth services. Now, beneficiaries can access virtual visits at no additional cost, and providers receive reimbursement at the same rate as in-person visits.

Health insurance providers Aetna, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare are waiving cost-share for members who access virtual health visits to assess coronavirus symptoms; some are waiving cost-share for routine health services, as well. In addition, they are updating health plans to cover COVID-19-related diagnostic and treatment services.

Telehealth platforms, such as Avera eCare, are testing how telemedicine can allow providers to see patients at high-risk for the virus over video, limiting the number of people potentially exposed.

How Health Systems Are Responding

Hospitals are realigning resources to care for patients with COVID-19 and implementing safety and infection prevention measures that limit the number of patients and visitors allowed on-site. Telemedicine technology can help fill gaps.

Examples of Improving Access

Organizations are optimizing and expanding their telemedicine services to protect the health of providers and to make care as convenient, affordable, and safe as possible for patients. For example:

Online COVID-19 Risk Assessments

Online self-evaluation tools can save your staff time while patients answer questions about their symptoms. Geonetric launched a self-assessment that’s free to clients to help patients decide whether they need to get tested for COVID-19.

Best Practices During the Pandemic

Make sure your telemedicine offerings are in the best shape possible for ongoing, increased use. Follow Geonetric’s tips for promoting telemedicine the right way and our guide to writing about telemedicine services.

Talk to your healthcare staff, telehealth technology service provider, leadership, and other stakeholders about:

  • Primary care and urgent care services that can move fully or partly online to an e-visit or video visit format
  • Offering e-visits, video visits, and other digital options to answer COVID-19-related questions, perform screening and triage, and monitor and manage symptoms
  • Using telemedicine to access guidance from infectious disease doctors, pulmonologists, and other specialists, bringing their expertise to your patients at the point-of-care

Promote Your Care Options

Part of your telemedicine strategy needs to include access to care messaging, so patients can understand when and how to appropriately use your telemedicine services, make a phone call, or physically visit a physical location or emergency room.

Use your website and other digital platforms to help patients understand changes to your services; for example, update your behavioral and mental health service line content if you now offer counseling through virtual visits.

Get Expert Help

Add Geonetric’s knowledgeable content strategists, writers, designers, and digital marketers to your team. We can help you effectively promote and leverage your telemedicine services during this public health crisis. Explore other free COVID-19 online resources.

Guide Patients Through Care Options During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Informing patients about your organization’s care options — and which choice is right for their specific needs — is always important. It’s even more critical in this moment, when healthcare organizations are experiencing or preparing for increased patient volumes and stressors due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

Promoting Access to Care on Your Website

Does your organization currently have “access to care” content on your website? If so, review it, and consider updating or augmenting it to reflect any changes necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak, following the guidelines in this article.

If you do not currently explain access to care options to patients, now is the time to add this content to your website. Create a webpage specifically about the options for care your organization offers, who should use them and when, and how these guidelines reflect safety and quality measures put in place due to COVID-19.

Coronavirus Care Guidance

Knowledge is power. Educating patients about COVID-19 and, if needed, the next steps they can take to get help can dispel fear. Include information about the symptoms of COVID-19, specifying:

  • What symptoms can someone manage at home? How?
  • What factors (such as an existing health condition or immune system deficiency) or symptoms mean someone should get medical help

Most healthcare facilities are asking people to call ahead before they visit in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Make it clear when a patient should call their primary care provider, use an e-visit, call a nurse line or COVID-19 hotline, send a message through MyChart or another patient portal, or go to the emergency room (ER).

To meet the needs of their communities, some organizations are implementing new options, like virtual care visits, or making virtual visits to screen and triage patients for COVID-19 free to patients. Geonetric has developed an online self-assessment using Formulate, our form builder, specifically for healthcare websites. Geonetric clients can implement this assessment today to help patients understand their risk for infection and take the next step when appropriate.

Correct Myths & Misconceptions

Unfortunately, you’re fighting misinformation exacerbated by fear. A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, while most respondents recognize someone who thinks they have symptoms should stay at home and call a medical provider, 25% believe they should “seek care immediately at an emergency room or urgent care facility.” This number rises to 38% among respondents with lower incomes. Your role as a healthcare communicator — providing trusted, factual information — is essential.

Guidance for Other Healthcare Concerns

Most hospitals are canceling nonemergency procedures or changing how they deliver routine care. Your patients have questions like, “can I still get my checkup to renew my prescription?” and “what should I do about this skin rash?” Make sure your access to care information directs patients to the care option that is appropriate for their needs, so users understand when and how to get the care they need.

Promote Telemedicine

When you promote telehealth options for nonemergency care, it can help your organization increase capacity elsewhere in your organization for acute care needs — and, again, keep people safe at home. Learn more about leveraging telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic and what other health systems are doing.

Voice & Tone

The language you use matters. Avoid a negative, frightening tone or voice, and reassure patients your organization is there for them, providing care and support when your community needs it most. This approach can help patients gain more peace of mind while they’re social distancing at home, or if they or a loved one must seek care for COVID-19 symptoms or another healthcare issue.

Follow Web Writing Best Practices

Stress can affect anyone’s ability to find and process information. Make sure your content uses language your readers can understand and follows other best practices for online health communications.

An Example: Cone Health

Cone Health, a system based in Greensboro, NC, partnered with Geonetric to make their care options promotion dynamic, patient-focused, and intuitive. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve deployed an alert banner that directs people to resources about the disease.

The health system also offers a helpful infographic to guide users, step-by-step, through what to do if they think they might be infected [PDF], highlighting the availability of free MyChart COVID-19 e-Visits.

Cone Health developed a Q&A page with Cynthia Snider, MD. Dr. Snider answers questions like:

  • What is COVID-19?
  • How does it spread?
  • How can I protect myself?
  • What are the symptoms?

Learn more about how to answer common questions about the pandemic and tailor this content to the needs of the geographic area you serve.

We’re in This Together

There’s a lot on your plate right now and things are changing quickly. Contact Geonetric if you need help putting together a care options pages on your site, or other services to address pressing issues that have arisen due to the coronavirus outbreak, or to help make sure your day-to-day marketing tasks continue to get done.

How to Build an Effective Crisis Resource Hub

What types of information should your resource hub include?

To start, ensure you’re answering common questions and the most important information everyone should know about the virus, such as:

  • Symptoms
  • How the virus is spread
  • Treatment options, in a hospital or at home
  • Prevention methods
  • When to get care

While other organizations are likely providing this information, it’s still valuable to include it on your website for area residents who turn to your health system as their primary source of information.

Create Information Unique to Your Health System

Focus your crisis resource hub content on local concerns. People want to know:

  • Steps you’re taking to protect people at your facilities – Describe any changes in sanitation and sterilization, or other protocols keep patients and guests safe, which may include policies and practices at long-term care and nursing home facilities.
  • Facility changes – If any of your clinics, gyms, or other wellness facilities are closing or changing hours, update your visitors with this information and include any information on virtual events that may be taking place instead of on-site events.
  • Myths and facts – Anxiety and panic can lead to misinformation spreading across your community. Use your crisis resource hub as a place to share facts, address rumors, and debunk false statements.
  • Visitor policies and restrictions – When the crisis is a communicable disease, clearly communicate changes to your hospital visiting policies.
  • What supplies they need for their home – Help people plan ahead and cope with social distancing or isolation scenarios by explaining what types of medicine, food, and other supplies to keep on hand at home.
  • Where to get care – Explain options for care, including when to take advantage of virtual care options and when to visit an urgent care or emergency room, for patients with symptoms of COVID-19 and for other needs.

Create individual pages for these topics that are easy to share on social platforms, in newsletters, and through your intranet with employees and staff.

Address High-Risk Audiences

Consider creating targeted content for people with distinct concerns and questions because they are:

  • Caregivers
  • Immuno-compromised
  • Living with chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease, and lung disease
  • New parents
  • Parents of newborns, school-aged children, or teens

Use resources in your hospital, such as doctors and clinical leaders, to explain how people in these groups can protect their health. Refer these audiences to services and resources within your system for help.

Sample Wireframe and Content Layout for COVID-19 Resources Hub

Geonetric’s expert content strategists and designers partnered to create this sample wireframe to help you build and organize a hub quickly and with all the right information.

Wireframe of a COVID-19 Resource Hub


Use Plain Language

Make information easy to understand by creating highly readable content:

  • Be conversational, speaking in an active, second-person voice
  • Break down complex medical concepts, using a series of short sentences
  • Use common words and spell out acronyms on first reference
  • Write clear, descriptive links (never use “click here”)

People tend to scan web pages, rather than reading every word, so use techniques that help them quickly and easily find the information they want.

Link to Reliable, Accurate Outside Sources

Create a space on your hub landing page for links to trustworthy, accurate sources of information outside your walls, such as:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Local and state health departments

These organizations are on the front line of the crisis and can provide the latest, most up-to-date information. Google recently launched a COVID-19 hub of its own, complete with trending keyword data, common search queries, the latest articles from reputable sources, and more.

Employ the Power of Content Marketing

If your organization uses content marketing, promote those assets in your crisis resource hub.

See examples of videos, blog articles, and other content healthcare marketing teams have created to guide their audience during the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

Don’t forget about older articles that are relevant to the current crisis. Review, update, and share articles on topics like:

  • Handwashing techniques
  • Hygiene to prevent the spread of germs
  • Sanitizing and safeguarding your home during illness
  • Keeping your children and family safe from illness
  • Tips for eating healthy
  • Stress management

Reach out to doctors, nurses, and front-line staff to provide input and insight into the content you’re creating. They are useful, trustworthy sources of information for your audience.

Choose Images with Empathy

Public health crises are scary. Where you can, use images that evoke feelings of calmness, trust, and security. This can help reduce anxieties. Photos of your staff helping patients, or pictures of your waiting areas and amenities, can help convey empathy and familiarity.

When possible, avoid images that could fuel anxiety, like needles or people in hazmat suits.

Create Meaningful Conversion Paths

Make sure people can get to your crisis resource hub, no matter where they are on your site. Likewise, ensure people can get to other related content and services if needed. These might include:

  • Links from service line or foundational content pages to your resource hub, letting people know that you have updated information they can trust
  • Links from the crisis resource hub to related services, such as virtual health and telemedicine, urgent care, or health assessments
  • Alert panels, which can and should appear on every page of your site, alerting people of any updates regarding the crisis. These panels can link to your crisis resource hub, as well as individual pages, such as visitor restrictions and how your hospital is keeping patients and visitors safe
  • Related locations where someone can receive care, such as urgent care or family practice clinics
  • Decision trees and checklists to help people access the right care when they need it, such as choosing between urgent care and emergency care, or when it’s time to call their doctor

Share Your Crisis Resources

Use social media to share pages from your crisis resource hub, content marketing articles, videos, and more. In your email newsletters, create a special section for up-to-date crisis communication. When sharing links, use UTM codes so you can track the source of website traffic.

Update your business listings, and consider a Google post to provide fast updates to users on the search engine results page (SERP) for your organization’s locations.

Build a Workflow to Assess & Iterate

As the crisis unfolds and news evolves, bring your team together to assess the content you’ve created. New questions from your social followers and front-line staff may come up that produce opportunities for your team to create new content.

And of course, as information becomes outdated, update, or archive your pages.

If you need guidance planning your crisis communication hub or creating content for your audience, contact Geonetric. We can serve as an extension of your team when your community is counting on you like never before.

How to Update Your Google My Business Listings for COVID-19

6 Tips for Effective COVID-19 FAQ Web Pages

1. Understand Your Community’s Concerns

Start with research. Reach out to your call center, frontline staff, and infectious disease specialists. Monitor local news outlets. Check social media and local online forums, like your city’s local subreddit. Look at Google Trends, your own internal site search, and other tools that reveal what people are searching for in your area and on your website.

These tools can help you get a handle on the questions, concerns, and potential misinformation in your community — so you can deliver the information people need.

2. Categorize & Organize Your Questions

Make it easy for readers to find information. Group questions by topic and place them under clear and specific subheadings — for example, “Protecting Yourself and Others,” “Local COVID-19 Testing and Care,” and “Hospital and Clinic Policies During COVID-19.” This makes your FAQ page easy to scan and navigate. No one wants to weed through all your content to find the answer to the one question that brought them to your site in the first place.

To keep an FAQ page from growing unwieldy, address the questions of just one target audience. For example, you may have one FAQ page for external audiences, like patients and community members, and another for your employees and physicians. Put employees and physician FAQs in place that makes sense for this audience. In some cases, that might be your intranet. If your intranet isn’t easily accessible for some staff or nonemployed physicians, choose a section of your website dedicated to healthcare professionals. Learn more about internal communication during a healthcare crisis.

As a crisis progresses and the questions you uncover in your research become more specialized to specific situations, you may want to segment your audience even further. For example, consider targeted FAQ pages to address the COVID-19-related questions of pregnant women, cancer patients and their families, people with respiratory conditions, older adults, and other groups. Consider the needs of your audience and the specialty programs, services, and expertise at your organization as you determine your approach.

3. Be Concise and Straightforward

Make questions and answers easy to read and understand by using plain language. Be clear and specific. Use short sentences and paragraphs. Speak directly to the reader. Use the active voice. Choose everyday words. Learn more about creating readable healthcare content.

When writing questions and answers, vary your opening phrases. Eye-tracking studies show that readers tend to look at words toward the beginning of a line when they scan a page. That means if every question starts with “What should I…,” your readers may struggle to find the information they’re looking for.

4. Prioritize Usability, Accessibility, & Inclusivity

During a public health crisis, everyone needs access to reliable, trustworthy health information — especially those who are most at risk. Choose an FAQ format that’s easy for everyone to use.

According to user experience leader Nielson Norman Group, the best format for short and medium FAQ pages is a question list followed by the individual questions and answers.

If you choose to use accordions to condense your content, make sure they comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Same for in-page links, also called jump links.

The subheadings you used to organize your questions also support accessibility for people using screen readers and other assistive devices.

If your service area includes large populations whose preferred language is something other than English, consider translating your FAQ page into the most commonly spoken languages in your community. A professional medical translator gives you more control and confidence in the accuracy and quality of your translated content.

5. Connect to Related Content

Avoid duplicating your content by connecting users to other areas of your website for additional information. For example, if you’re telling patients to use virtual visits for some healthcare services, cross-link to your virtual visits service line page.

During a far-reaching crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, take advantage of resources from national or international organizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer easy-to-read COVID-19 fact sheets in multiple languages and syndicated public health library content.

6. Update Your FAQs Regularly

Keep your FAQ page relevant and up-to-date as the crisis evolves.

Do continual research on your community’s needs — the questions they have tomorrow or next week may be completely different than the questions they have today.

As news breaks, recommendations are updated, or policies change, revise your FAQ page so your visitors get current information. Consider including a “last updated” or “last reviewed” date on the page to help instill confidence and trust.

Putting it all Together: FAQ Page Examples

Check out these examples of clear, purposeful, well-organized COVID-19 FAQ web pages for a variety of audiences:

After the Crisis

When the crisis passes, remove the FAQ page from your website. While FAQ pages can be useful in a time-sensitive situation, they aren’t ideal for long-term website content. Instead, work relevant information about ongoing care or new policies into your foundational content.

With these approaches, you’ll create a timely, purposeful FAQ page with factual, unbiased information that can help ease anxiety and stress, reduce call volume, protect your community’s health, and even improve brand trust and loyalty today and going forward.

Questions to Strengthen Your Internal Crisis Communications

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.

Healthcare Crises, The Web & Your Community

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.

Stay Updated

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.