patients NOW SeT The TERMS for Their RETURN TO non-emergency services
Hospitals and Clinics Must Prove it is Safe
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) has published excellent intelligence in the past few weeks about health care quality and health care safety practices during the coronavirus outbreak, crowd-sourcing ideas and bringing the best of their expert knowledge to bear for the benefit of the healthcare community. Advancing healthcare quality and safety is their goal, so their steadfastness during this time in providing a leadership voice is expected, but it couldn’t be more needed or prescient. They are a harbinger of a very real challenge that lies ahead for the healthcare industry. Healthcare systems business models are at risk because they rely on individuals’ seeking treatment in non-emergency services.
Hospitals, health systems, long-term care and facilities of all walks will face heavy burdens to prove their quality and safety in the wake of COVID-19 to draw patients back and retain their trust. The pandemic has made healthcare facilities vulnerable to the fears of the public and all the scrutiny that fuels: Are facilities clean? Do tests really provide the correct results? Are providers overburdened? Am I hearing the truth? Will I receive the best care?
As a professional who for the last decade has helped healthcare organizations communicate about quality and safety, I can tell you it is not an easy story to tell. Much of this work happens behind the scenes. Data is not easily reported or consumer friendly. In addition, there are headwinds. Consumers are influenced by headlines that say quality and safety ratings, accreditation and compliance standards are not failsafe. They are aware of healthcare inequities that mean not everyone receives the same care. Further, reports of the CDC’s testing missteps during COVID-19 have reminded them that even government agencies designed to protect them can’t provide complete assurance. Organizations will have to overcome these challenges when publicly reporting quality and safety.
In the recovering and post COVID-19 world, organizations should plan to communicate about quality and safety practices like there’s no tomorrow.
They should communicate independent of the ratings and the third-party measures. They should get out in front on their own, communicating transparently, frequently and authentically. As healthcare gets more local and organizations are driven to understand and cultivate their communities toward population health, systems should embrace reaching out to local customers and constituents to build trust and strengthen relationships. How can they accomplish this? Following are some ideas:
Leverage the teams of quality and safety professionals working within your organization.
Translate their work into meaningful digests that people can understand – simplify what’s happening to address areas of concern: (i.e., number of daily cleanings; population screening and care, isolation and sanitization of infectious care wards and equipment, appropriate care staff allocation across various departments, care staff temperature checks and testing, physician/nurse to patient staffing ratios; visitor safety policies, virtual and telehealth availability, etc.) All of this information is non-patient specific.
Say what you are doing to keep your organization safe and quality-committed.
Report on the integrity of testing.
Refer to the practices ensuring the cleanliness of healthcare facilities.
Discuss the care and management of your professionals and staff.
Talk about what you are doing to keep your community inside and outside your walls safe.
Reaffirm your commitment to your mission with every communication.
There are well-respected communications practices that should be implemented during this time when healthcare organizations need to retain the trust of everyone they serve, work with and employ. These include communicating frequently to stay visible – approval ratings rise the more leadership is seen - and equally getting out in front with your own message first. Healthcare organizations will be well served by these tried and true guidelines and by avoiding another – saying nothing – as they renegotiate operating procedures during the near and long-term COVID-19 recovery to draw consumers back for non-emergency services and care.