Imagine that you are a hospital administrator. What are some actions that you might take to improve communication in your hospital?
1. Communicate the vision to your inner circle. The admin is always the "keeper of the vision," but the vision must be shared and understood for the admin to be effective. The first step in sharing the vision is developing it among a core group of lieutenants — the key leaders within the hospital. These individuals can offer feedback and help refine the vision, but most importantly, they will be the primary drivers of its dissemination. If the vision is dispensed in a dictatorial fashion as opposed to collaboratively, it is less likely to be adopted. "Before the admin can engage the broader community effectively, the critical inner circle must buy in to the message completely," says Ms. Crawford. "Engage them, and gather their support, and if they buy in to what you're saying, your ideas will begin to permeate the system," says Ms. Crawford. 2. Use your "captive ambassador base." Do not overlook opportunities to communicate messages broadly to all employees. "Keeping broad employee communication at the forefront of message delivery is key," says Ms. Crawford. Hospitals and health systems are typically big employers within their respective communities. Therefore, having engaged, informed employees will translate into a healthier relationship with the community. "People work to get paid, but they also want to be part of something special," she says. And if the admin can articulate the organization’s objectives and make them feel vested in journey, they will become ambassadors both in the workplace and in the community. 3. Invest in a strong communication team. Whether through outside or inside resources (or both), hospitals should make the necessary investment in a strong communications team – one that has creative talent, solid writing capabilities and, ideally, experience in the healthcare industry. Integrate that expertise and use it. Ms. Crawford has multiple hospital clients, and she says that the most important feature of a strong team relationship is non-stop communication. "We talk daily, probably five times a day, and also meet in person regularly. That allows us to understand their nuances or when there is a slight change in tenor," says Ms. Crawford. A communication team and hospital that are loosely-connected can run into problems. "Let's say a hospital is entering a transaction, and gives the communication team information about it," says Ms. Crawford. "Important questions often need to be answered and understood in order for that message to be communicated clearly." This is where nuances come into play — a communication team may recognize certain risks or opportunities a hospital faces if they're in frequent contact. "By talking regularly, I can consider every angle of a development or announcement and refine the message appropriately," says Ms. Crawford. 4. Listen, listen, listen. Whether it's through town hall meetings, online comments, Intranet feedback or conversations with physicians, admin's need to sharpen their listening skills and ensure that feedback is not going unnoticed. "These pieces of feedback and communication from stakeholders can help the admin refine its operations, both on a small and large scale," says Ms. Crawford. Everyone knows that the role of hospitals has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. They’ve shifted from being inpatient facilities tending to the sick, to flagships of health that hold themselves accountable in their efforts to improve community health. Listening is a keep part of that accountability. Admin's should do more than accept feedback — they should actively seek it. "At the end of town hall meetings, the admin for one of our hospital clients welcomes everyone to email him. He tells them he welcomes their input, and with their input and suggestions, the hospital will be able to provide better care. They listen to that," says Ms. Crawford. Assertively seeking input will help hospital admin's stay on top of their community's needs and priorities. 5. Embrace all available communication tools in the marketplace. There are a lot of tools these days — traditional media, social media, physician events, town hall meetings, electronic commercials and much more. "Sometimes, in-person communication is not always possible, and making video a great way to communicate a message," says Ms. Crawford. This lets people put a face to the hospital, observe body language and hear a voice — whether the video is on YouTube or the hospital's Intranet for employees. Blogs are also an easy way for admin's to maintain transparency and open communication with both employees and the community while communicating the hospital's message.