Strategic communication during a crisis is essential. During this time, stakeholders are looking for confirmation that the company or person has his or her best interests in mind. If the crisis is not handled well, the company or person will fight to get its stakeholders back. Here are 3 characteristics of good crisis communication for your company:

1) Quickness – First, being quick is of utmost importance. It shows stakeholders that they are extremely important. Also, it is important that you disclose the news first rather than media outlets. For example, when news about an affair was about to spill, David Letterman disclosed the information to his audience on his show before anyone else. Disclosing it to his audience first was a great move because his audience already likes him and the news of the affair did not inherently damage their opinion of him. In contrast, Tiger Woods did the opposite and his reputation is still damaged.

Healthcare Consulting Firm

2) Clarity – being clear means to communicate the whole story all at once.  Stakeholders will not appreciate delayed or withheld information. Let your stakeholders know exactly what is happening all at once instead of delaying it, or trying to inform them gradually. Also, if you make any promises to fix the crisis make sure they are attainable and that you accomplish them in a timely manner.

3) Consistency – make sure all communication with stakeholders is consistent. You should find that all of your messages convey similar tones and meanings. The key to consistency is honesty. Therefore, all spokespersons for your organization need to have up to date information and media training in order to effectively communicate.

How does this fit into market research? A large client base for RMS is hospitals and Departments of Health and Human Services because both are mandated to complete patient satisfaction surveys. This forces market research firms to follow HIPAA rules and regulations.

A large concern for crisis among organizations in the health care industry is the topic of patient data security breaches. This information is sometimes referred to as electronic protected health information (EPHI). Since market research relies on participants’ responses, it is important that people feel safe giving organizations personal information. One way to put participants at ease is by stating that all information is kept confidential and anonymous.

Stephen Boyer, Chief Technology Officer of BitSight Technology, said that the healthcare industry saw the largest number of securities breaches, but were also the slowest to respond to these crises. It often took more than five days to fully respond to a breach in healthcare. Boyer also said that on the black market patient’s electronic medical records sell for about $20, while credit card data sells for about $1 per card. This is one reason why breaches happen so frequently in healthcare and consequences are high.

Here are some examples of data security crises in healthcare:

  • Example #1: Reasonable Response – According to Erin McCann, Associate Editor of Healthcare IT News, in September 2011 Stanford Hospital and Clinics notified roughly 20,000 patients that their protected health information had been posted to a public website. The information included medical diagnoses and patient names. The information was posted on the public website for nearly one year. “Our contractors are explicitly required to commit to strong safeguards to protect the confidentiality of our patients’ information,” said Diana Meyer Chief Privacy Officer of Stanford Hospital and Clinics in a press release. “We have worked extremely hard to identify all the parties responsible. No hospital staff member was involved in posting the file to the website. We will continue to take aggressive action to hold all responsible parties accountable.”
  • Reaction: This statement is an equitable response for this crisis. The statement was given via a press release which means that it was not as direct to media as it could have been. However, the message of the statement was clear, assigned blame, and told stakeholders that aggressive action was being taken.
  • Example #2: Better Response – According to McCann, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) notified nearly 1.3 million people that hackers gained access to an agency server for almost a year before being discovered. This was one of the largest HIPAA breaches ever reported. “We apologize for the stress this announcement is going to cause,” said Richard H. Opper, Director of the DPHHS. “DPHHS is committed to answering questions clients and employees may have and to help them to take advantage of the services we are offering.” DPHHS provided affected clients with credit monitoring services. This statement is better because it was given by a powerful and credible figure. Opper apologizes, and focuses on how the hospital is helping stakeholders.
  • Reaction: This response also gives a gateway to continue contact with stakeholders, which leads to two-way communication. After hearing the statement stakeholders will understand that it took a long time to discover the breach, but DPHHS is able to provide resources to ensure their private information stays secure.

RMS Healthcare is a healthcare consulting firm that offers various market research services and consulting services pertaining to patient satisfaction, community surveying, and NCQA accreditation. If you are interested in learning more about what RMS has to offer and how we can help your organization contact Susan Maxsween at or by calling 1-866-567-5422.