Timing and precision are everything in healthcare. If just a few seconds lapse or information is misinterpreted, it can mean tragedy for those on both sides of the stethoscope.
Since 2020, healthcare communication, while always essential, took on an elevated priority for not only patients, but employees on COVID's front lines. When accurate information was distributed quickly, it likely saved thousands of lives and helped doctors, nurses and healthcare staff.
Now that tools to battle COVID are secured, an evaluation of medical communication is occurring. Like many in internal communication, healthcare communicators are looking at how employees receive information, and if it is efficient.
While healthcare communication has its unique characteristics, communicators in all fields can learn things from this industry.
Short, Digestible Information
Children’s Health is one of the largest pediatric health care centers in the country (7,500+ employees). Located in N. Texas, it prides itself on the trustworthiness of its care team, which is supported by timely, noteworthy information from its internal communication staff.
According to Children’s Health, “while timely, transparent information and channels were well-received during COVID-19, clinical team members often felt overloaded with emails, and with limited time away from the bedside, they had little opportunity to read them.”
Communicators concluded that the ability to effectively distribute information and maintain trust depended on funneling messages through a leadership channel. However, leaders’ workloads prevented them from spending time distributing messages.
As such, communicators formulated an action plan centered on creating “bite-sized” content. The idea was to make content easy for sharing. Goals included building a process to engage and equip leaders as communicators and refreshing internal channels regularly.
Eventually communicators created a Leadership Hub on the Children’s Health intranet, which provided leaders with a central location for the latest information. This obviated spending time sifting through numerous email. Leaders were instructed to organize this content into a clear, actionable “Know, Do, Share” format and send it weekly.
Thanks to this innovation, leader communication open rates rose 85 percent.
For staff-wide internal communication, Balloon Beat, a newsletter, shifted from daily to a twice weekly publication. In addition, it prioritized the most important information and stories.
And, according to Children’s Health, even with its reduced publishing schedule, Balloon Beat’s open rate still averaged 66 percent in the months after the switch. It continued increasing through year’s end.
Energizing and Engaging Employees
Some hospitals and health care systems are large employment centers—and staff can easily feel forgotten or lost. For example, employees used to feel unrecognized at Dayton Children’s Hospital, according to staff surveys.
Kristen Bowser, director of internal marketing and employee engagement at Dayton Children’s, says “recognition was one of our lower-scoring items"on employee-engagement surveys.
With many employees working remotely during COVID, culture at Dayton's Children lessened. In addition, internal communication can be especially challenging in a hospital setting, when staff have different schedules and high-stakes jobs.
Communicators at Dayton Children's learned companies and organizations with strong recognition programs experience 20% less turnover than those without them.
Above and Beyond Recognition
Accordingly, Dayton Children’s worked with a local company called Boost to create an employee-engagement platform. The platform integrated with the hospital’s intranet (Focus) and resided on the home page for visibility, Bowser says.
Called Above and Beyond (hospital tagline), each employee receives a bank of points to award for peer-to-peer recognition. In addition, unit leaders receive points to recognize employees. Watching and sharing videos the communication team creates is another way of earning points. Each month employees receive a reminder of their points totals.
Using the points, staff can purchase items in a reward-and-recognition store. These include lunch boxes, coffee mugs, tote bags, umbrellas, apparel and more. The items are redeemable with points only.
Above and Beyond’s greatest challenge is that it became too popular! “We needed a system that [could] reach all employees where they were [working on-site or home] to improve engagement and support a strong culture," she says. Bowser adds, the system helps employees feel "respected and recognized for going above and beyond.”
The system's success broke the budget. “We assumed 60 percent of staff usage and are at 85 percent." The communication team has implemented plans for the current fiscal year so the points program remains within budget.
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal