Ahead of the Curve: Three Steps for Healthcare PR Crisis Planning


Rick Lyke

Executive Vice President, Public Relations and Public Affairs

The healthcare industry works within a space where circumstances can shift quickly, leading to challenging situations that can be difficult to manage—and, at their worst, develop into an organizational crisis.  

Research suggests that only 62% of companies have a crisis plan, and 40% have never conducted a crisis simulation exercise. In healthcare, with lives, reputations and careers on the line, the stakes are even higher. Crises, from data breaches and disputes over payer-provider contracts to malpractice allegations and wrong-site surgeries, can crop up unexpectedly. To ensure that your healthcare organization is prepared for any disaster it may face, our public relations experts have compiled the three essential steps you’ll need to take.  

Safety first.

Before—and above—all else, prioritize the welfare of your personnel. If necessary, promptly notify any public safety officials or first responders. Make sure that you’ve accounted for all clients and staff, and then secure the property. Use site-specific emergency plans as a guide for any necessary procedures before you’re ready to safely move on to your next steps.

Gather the information—and then share it with internal parties.

After ensuring everyone’s safety, alert leadership. Your organization should compile a crisis contact list for swift communication. Schedule a crisis team call to assess the situation, identify unanswered questions, and evaluate the crisis’s impact on the staff, facilities and services. If first responders are present, work with them to gather accurate information. When you’re aware of the situation’s scope, schedule your crisis team call—ideally within the first hour of the incident. Here, you’ll share key information and decide on communication strategies with stakeholders or law enforcement. If you’re legally or contractually mandated to notify other parties, assign those responsibilities during your team call.

Prepare for what’s next.

During a crisis, prioritize updating internal stakeholders before turning attention to external parties. While the aim is to share information before rumors spread, accuracy is more important than speed, so take the time to gather details and show concerned parties you’re empathetic to their worries. Anticipate the most uncomfortable questions and answer them completely in your opening statement with the public and the press—you’ll defuse anger, suspicion and hostility because you won’t appear to be hiding or evading responsibility. Speculation will only create uncertainty, so reassure the public and the press that you’re aware of the situation in its entirety.

Crises are inevitable, but in the healthcare industry, they can be particularly sensitive. Alleviate some of that stress with a strong public relations strategy, and conduct crisis simulation training to significantly reduce the duration and the severity of any emergency your organization faces.

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