How Marketing Agencies Can Help Hospitals Improve Internal Communications

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

The importance of clear, concise and effective internal communications within hospitals can’t be overstated. At stake are staff relationships, operational efficiency and, most importantly, patient safety. Marketers can help hospitals maximize the efficacy of their internal communications. From creating equity messaging to conveying information about organizational restructuring to helping employees feel heard by management, marketers can help internal teams in hospitals communicate better.

In my time as CEO of a marketing agency with deep health care expertise, I’ve identified several steps marketers can take once a hospital system has engaged them as a partner on internal communications and information distribution/delivery.

1. Identify which leaders can help the hospital communicate with its associates. You’ll likely have to do this at several leadership levels. Look for people who are well-liked, who are eager to work toward organizational improvement and who want to get involved. Ask current leaders which of their direct reports might be interested, and ask for volunteers. It’s especially important to identify good leaders when communicating with and to doctors, who can be accustomed to working independently or at the head of a team. Influential physicians who are brought on board with updated messaging can become internal champions who will help deliver messages and encourage alignment.

2. Create relationship management roles. Designate agency staffers to pair with the identified hospital leaders from the first step, and help them develop a strategy for communicating with direct reports. Tactics can include team or one-on-one meetings, presentations with Q&A sessions and short surveys. Plan the cadence of where and when to conduct these engagements. It’s often better to set them up as regular occurrences than to plan to do them as needed since hospital concerns tend to be many, and time to address them all tends to run short.

3. Help leaders tailor communications about big announcements or changes to each separate audience. Doctors, nurses, clerical staff and maintenance staff all have different but important stakes in the game. Aim to help hospital leaders focus on how the upcoming change will benefit each group, how they can acknowledge any potential drawbacks or unknowns and how they can encourage each group of employees to share the opportunities they see for improvement as the change unfolds.

4. Conduct internal surveys for key employee groups before and after major changes. When employees have an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback, they often feel they can be more honest. Internal surveys can help hospitals take the pulse of how employees feel about any number of aspects of their jobs and the hospital itself. Here are a few tips for conducting such surveys:

  • When you’re creating the survey, work with hospital leaders to identify what they most urgently want to know.
  • Survey doctors, nurses and administrative/support staff separately since their reactions will likely differ. There are many online survey builders that let you tailor your surveys to each of your audiences.
  • Include questions about how recent changes have benefited staffers and the hospital’s patients, and ask where there might be room for improvement.
  • Once you’ve gathered the data, compile it into a report that measures the hospital leaders’ expectations against reality and identifies opportunities to realign their approach with core values.

Keep these things in mind as you build internal communications plans with hospitals:

  • Stay ahead of the gossip mill. Encourage leadership to share information as soon as it’s known and in a distributable format. Help hospitals understand that it’s important for leaders to be available to listen to employee concerns. Encourage leaders to make rounds — not just during regular office hours at a central location, but at every place and time the hospital delivers care. Suggest conducting town halls and a weekly cafeteria lunch where employees can bring concerns and successes.
  • Help hospitals understand when and how to admit mistakes. Nobody likes lies, spin or distraction. Internal audiences are acutely tuned in to this kind of messaging since their jobs might be on the line. Employees will often let leadership know when they’re unhappy with a decision — whether by saying so directly or by quitting. Work with hospitals to create internal crisis communication documents before any major change is rolled out so that a plan is in place to make employees feel heard and valued if the change turns out to be hugely unpopular. This way, hospitals will have an opportunity to solicit employee feedback on how to fix the situation.

No two hospitals are identical when it comes to internal communications challenges and opportunities. Marketers can help hospital leaders identify what those are, and they can help employees understand how their contributions are important at every level. By bringing internal stakeholders into alignment with a hospital’s central priorities, marketers can help hospitals create powerful brand advocates who can provide positive patient experiences.

Kathy Selker
I’m Kathy Selker. My work as CEO of Northlich, a Cincinnati-based healthcare marketing agency, has taught me a great deal about how hospitals and health systems can best connect with women to make the most positive impact in their lives.
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