Daugherty: Three Ebola messages that hospitals should share with their communities

Five U.S. hospitals to date have cared for Ebola patients. And beyond managing those patients' unique care needs, each facility had to handle massive public scrutiny, too.   

The Daily Briefing's Juliette Mullin sat down with the Marketing and Planning Leadership Council's Alicia Daugherty to understand what all hospitals can do to reassure their communities right now.  

Q: How can a hospital dealing with a sensitive, potentially infectious disease like Ebola handle concerns with other patients? And what about the concerns of its own staff?

Alicia Daugherty: First, hospitals need to have strong infection-control protocols in place—before the first patient walks in the door.

Once a case has been confirmed, other patients, staff, and the community will want to be assured that infectious patients and those who care for them will be isolated until they are determined to be free of infection. Staff will want to know that protocols to protect workers caring for infected patients are evidence-based and appropriately aggressive.

I was impressed by Emory University Hospital's messaging about why they accepted their first Ebola patient. Their CEO detailed the care they took when determining whether they could accept the patients, and why they felt they should. (In an interview with the Daily Briefing, the hospital's CEO said, "This is our mission. This is the reason we exist. Read the entire interview.)

Looking back to a different outbreak, Community Hospital handled the U.S. MERS case well. Daily press releases and details about their infection control protocols likely went a long way toward reassuring patients they had things under control.

Learn more: How an Indiana hospital contained the first U.S. MERS case

Q: What should hospitals across the country be telling their communities about Ebola?

Daugherty: Hospitals need to communicate three things:

1. We are prepared. Provide details about infection control protocols and other preparation steps to build trust.

2. For most people, the risk is low. Reinforce that the risk of contracting Ebola is extremely low unless you've had direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person. However, to show you're taking the risk seriously, don't begin or end with this message. Instead, sandwich it between messages about safety and preparation, such as the above and below.

3. Here's what you can control. Providing action steps can help relieve anxiety, while also reducing transmission of other types of infections. Examples include "Wash your hands" and "Do not touch the body fluids of people who are sick."

What's more contagious than Ebola? Panic.

Q: Should hospitals that have successfully treated Ebola, like Emory, tout that in ads? Or might it scare folks away?

Daugherty: That's an interesting question. If a hospital cares for Ebola patients and effectively prevents transmission to others, that success may boost their quality reputation.

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However, they should wait to share their success in vehicles beyond press releases and internal communications until the outbreak has been controlled.

Waiting until the danger has passed will help ensure the association created in consumers' minds is between the hospital and strong patient safety, not the hospital and Ebola.

It also reduces the risk that a later misstep will create a credibility issue. While each successfully managed case is worthy of celebration, you never know what might happen with the next Ebola case that the hospital treats.

Five lessons we've learned about Ebola prep

At every hospital in the nation, leaders are scrambling to ensure their teams are prepared for Ebola. In response, our research team has launched a new project, including interviews and a survey, to surface specific challenges and emerging solutions.

Read the five lessons we've learned so far.

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