By David Musyj
As stated by George Bernard Shaw “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
We live by the adage you can never communicate enough. This is especially true during the times of a crisis. Unfortunately, in healthcare, being a 24/7/365 a day operation, taking care of hundreds of thousands of patients a year, with infrastructure and financial constraints, the number of crises has increased and the time between one to the next has been reduced.
When not in a crisis we use various methods of communication to both our internal and external communities and stakeholders. This includes paper newsletters, social media, videos, facebook live, town halls and emails to just name some formats. An assumption we follow is that anything we publish for our internal community should be written in the same or similar format for our external community which includes the media. This is done for two reasons. First, anything we think important enough to tell our staff team members should be available for our patients and community to read. The more individuals that are aware of the day to day issues facing the hospital the better chance you have achieving the “illusion that communication has taken place”. Second, we want our community members speaking from the same “songsheet” as our internal staff. The power of having thousands of individuals sharing identical information with tens of thousands of individuals they come in contact with is powerful and creates a “viral” communication process without even the help of social media.
When in a crisis communication becomes paramount. During this past year alone three crises faced our organization. We faced an operational funding reduction that resulted in operational changes and staffing reductions. Second, we faced a medical device reprocessing issue that results in the complete closure of the operating rooms at one of our acute campuses and finally a bed capacity issue during the recent influenza season. All three lasted months and with overlap consumed the whole year and then some.
During each of these crises we used all of the tools described above. In addition, during the crisis there was daily email updates provided to all of our internal staff. This updated our staff on the impact of the changes, the status of the implementation plans and projections into the future. The critical part of this was that what was shared with internal staff in these emails was shared with the external stakeholders including media without editing. Again, the more individuals that hear the same message without editing the better. This promotes open and transparent communication but most importantly factually correct. In today’s day and age of “alternative facts” we cannot afford to create different facts ourselves by modifying our messaging because we incorrectly think the external community will not understand what our internal experts hear or that we have to modify the wording for their consumption. This approach results in people focusing on the changes between both communication documents and questioning “why was it changed” rather than digesting the content and sharing it with others.
At the end of the day, being employed in Ontario hospital healthcare we have to appreciate we are not just employed by our hospital corporation but more importantly we are employed by our community and the Province as a whole. These employers are impacted by our problems and as a result should be aware of not only the good news we want to share but also the “not so good news”. You can never communicate enough.
David Musyj is President and CEO, Windsor Regional Hospital.