Although the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic seems never-ending, normal times will return. Savvy healthcare leaders will be keeping a list of lessons learned and things the health system or hospital could do better next time.

Any such list should include communications strategies that could be improved for staff, patients and the community at large. In good times and during times of crisis, effective communication is critical. Consider these four communications strategies.

  1. Give your providers and staff accurate information. Especially during a global pandemic, lines of communication from health system leaders to providers, support staff and others must remain open, and the information transmitted must be accurate. Text alerts or intranet sites are a common way to communicate, but do all staffers have ready access to these tools?

Nurses, for example, may have only limited hospital computer access to the internet, but nearly every one has a smartphone in her pocket. A mobile app for health system staff can help executives provide accurate, up-to-date information directly to those who need it.

With so much misinformation being pumped out regarding the current pandemic, think about how staff would quickly come to rely on information that your health system produces.

  1. Patients and the community can also benefit. Most of the information you produce for internal stakeholders would also be helpful to the community at large. Not staffing details or hospital action plans, but information about available resources, local/state/federal guidance about the crisis and other vital information, including ED wait times and the locations of urgent care clinics.

By having a clear plan and publishing critical information directly on an app, patients and potential patients could get quick, self-service guidance about symptoms, whether to head to the ED or urgent care or to stay at home. You could link to references for more information or to hospital policies (new hours, health screening protocols, etc.) directly from the app, freeing staff from the inevitable avalanche of calls.

  1. Consider self-service for perioperative patients and for other procedures. Effectively working through trying times entails using your staff to the best of their abilities. The same rule should apply during “normal” times, with providers working at the top of their licenses whenever possible.

But who is making sure patients are doing what they’re supposed to do (or not do) before procedures and surgeries? Likely, that’s a nurse who could be doing many more important things than calling patients. Depending on the type of procedures, perioperative patients can use an app to follow a checklist calculated to the procedure date. Time to order bowel prep supplies? Check. Start perioperative bathing? Check.

Rather than having a nurse call each patient, data from the app can flow to the patient’s health record, creating an exception list and greatly reducing the total number of calls a nurse has to make.

  1. Promote conversations through bi-directional communications. Regardless of whether an app serves internal clients or the community, communication should be bi-directional to allow for better, more meaningful conversations. Rather than a static, one-way flow of information, bi-directional communications can offer a richer user experience.

For an internal app, executives can communicate with staff by videoconferencing, for example, and staff can ask questions directly. Interactivity means staff can contact the right resource at the touch of a phone screen.

Externally, the ability for patients or community members to contact your facility directly will pay dividends in new business and patient loyalty. The importance of the patient experience cannot be stressed enough. People are accustomed to using their phones to do, well, nearly everything. The hospital is no longer the center of the care experience – the patient is.

Communication is critical every day but much more so during a community crisis. A little planning now regarding communication strategies will better position your health system regardless of what the future brings.

Bruce KennedyAbout the Author
Bruce Kennedy is Vice President of Provider Development for MobileSmith Health. A healthcare marketing strategist with more than 20 years’ experience in multiple care delivery environments, including surgical patient safety and quality and digital hospital product development, Kennedy leads MobileSmith Health’s expansion of new and existing hospital client and project growth as well as oversees client success operations and client application utilization.