A friend in the healthcare industry described recently the current healthcare landscape as akin to being part of the Hunger Games.
We are navigating a very uncertain environment that many of our industry compatriots may not survive, with no idea if what is lurking around the next corner to signal our salvation or doom.
This is very dramatic interpretation of where we are in healthcare now. We are barraged with constant updates and analyses on the potential repeal or replace of the Affordable Care Act and how healthcare delivery could be impacted. We are hearing about health insurers fleeing certain geographies leaving consumers with limited medical coverage options. We are seeing headlines about hospitals curtailing services, laying off staff, and in some cases, even closing their doors.
It is difficult to plan when there is so much in flux. This level of uncertainty can make many healthcare leaders hesitant to communicate with staff, patients and communities. After all, no one wants to over speculate or make promises they cannot keep. But, communication is never more important than in times of change and insecurity. People are, understandably, concerned, and a void of communication from healthcare leaders can create more fear and lead to employee and physician attrition, and compromise efforts to attract and retain patients.
So, how can healthcare leaders communicate effectively in a volatile environment?
- Be honest. Acknowledge to internal and external audiences that we are, indeed, living through a period of great uncertainty. It is OK to say that you don’t know what the future may hold – that there could be changes that are positive for your organization and some that could present serious challenges. But also…
- Be as reassuring as possible. While level setting about potential challenges and opportunities that could be on the horizon, also recognize that the healthcare sector and your organization have weathered significant changes before. Note that you are constantly examining potential changes and how they can impact your organization and evaluating how you can most respond effectively and adapt.
- Be present and engaged. When there is uncertainty, healthcare leaders must be present. Internally, this is the time to hold town hall meetings, visit department gatherings, round your facility and visit remote clinics, take lunch in the cafeteria, hold office hours, get that internal newsletter underway, and use your intranet, if you have one.
Talk to your internal audiences as much as possible. Be there to answer their questions and provide them guidance on how to how to respond to inquiries they are likely receiving from the community about healthcare and the future of your organization. Offer them as many opportunities as possible to connect with you.
Externally, this is the time to visit community leaders and partners to educate them about potential reforms and what they could mean locally. Host meetings at your hospital or out-patient clinic. Visit area media to offer what perspective on the pressing topics. Open the doors for dialogue, and keep everyone updated on milestones and developments. Calls and meetings can accomplish much of this, but a community newsletter or regular column in your local paper also can be helpful.
- Be the first in the door with good and bad news. Communicate any operational changes that must happen – positive developments such as a new service or challenging ones such as needed layoffs – as early and as openly as possible. Provide context for changes in the current landscape, and address questions and concerns as they arise.
In healthcare – payers, providers, policy forum, patient communities and product innovators – our ability to engage effectively and inspire our employees, physicians, patients, and communities for the long-term hinges on how we communicate when our world is uncertain. It isn’t always comfortable. All the same, it is the best way to ensure that the odds are ever in your favor.