Do Not Resuscitate

Posted on March 9, 2011 by 2 Comments

A death in the parking lot of a local hospital. Dozens of stories in local and national media. A Congressman demanding Medicare and Medicaid investigations.

It took less than an hour for a driver to die. And five days for a hospital to destroy its reputation.

Did hospital personnel refuse to help police administer CPR to a man who crashed his car in their parking lot due to a heart attack? Did it insist, instead, on dispatching an emergency medical response unit while untrained officers attempted to perform CPR?

The hospital’s meandering and argumentative approach within its immediate and subsequent communications never provided clear answers. Among its missteps:

Yet even after its position was substantiated, an online news poll showed a majority felt the hospital hadn’t explained itself satisfactorily.

In the aftermath, and despite the volume of communications from the hospital, few things are clear:

  • The hospital failed to clearly articulate its policy;
  • It didn’t outline the steps it was taking to investigate the situation itself; and
  • It didn’t offer consistent updates on the status of the investigation, heightening media interest – and criticism.

Here’s what the hospital could have done better…

  • Engaged all disciplines for its immediate response. The hospital’s initial communications focused too heavily on arguing factual discrepancies. That can be helpful in court, but not in shaping public opinion. The best initial responses are consistent across all audiences and factor in counsel from executive, communications, legal/regulatory, and relevant operational perspectives.
  •  Previously thought through this scenario and prepared potential responses in advance. The more urgent the potential situation, the more important it is to think it through in advance, when calmer heads prevail. That’s the best environment to decide how the organization will respond, especially since factual ambiguity and probable litigation are the norm. A response that’s respectful, tells what you know to be true, shares next steps and acknowledges the unknowns can be a powerful aid at an urgent time.
  • “We extend our condolences to the family of the deceased.  We are actively gathering information about the circumstances surrounding this incident.  As we learn more, we will continue to communicate with those involved.  Our mission is to provide the best possible medical care to patients on our premises, and our policy is to send medical help where needed on our campus.  We are committed to making sure this type of situation is not repeated.”

    Also helpful here: staging communications in advance. A plan to provide regular updates at predictable times in a central place can exert greater control and reinforce perceptions of a steady and consistent point of view (optimizing your Web site content for search engines is also helpful here). In the absence of any subsequent events, this can be a powerful strategy.

  • Understood that in some situations, less is more. For organizations with high risk and liability exposure, delivering a simple message from a single voice is often best. And making sure that spokesperson is fully trained in handling agitated media is crucial.

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