Flu Season is No Excuse for Bad Patient Experience

Flu Season is No Excuse for Bad Patient Experience

A bad flu season can stretch any hospital’s resources. Here’s how to keep patient experience from falling through the cracks.

Some hospitals are starting to look like disaster zones, in response to this year’s extremely serious flu season. Many providers are taking drastic measures to handle increased patient loads and prevent the virus from spreading within hospitals. Think visitor restrictions, security checks at entrances, all-caps warning signs, mandates to wear protective masks and even tents or makeshift intake areas to alleviate overflowing waiting rooms.

While these precautions are essential, we believe patient experience still matters. Here are nine ideas for healthcare leaders to consider that will not only help prevent the flu from spreading, but also motivate employees and build trust among patients and members of the community.

Once Patients Arrive

  • Equip frontline employees. Develop and distribute talking points and an FAQ that anticipates common scenarios and exceptions – you don’t want to be known for turning away the grandchild of a dying patient, for example. If you have employees or volunteers serving as gatekeepers at entrances, check in regularly to ensure you have addressed issues they are seeing or are likely to see. Remind them to treat patients with empathy and compassion.
  • Post signs that express care – and urgency. Don’t use hand-written or slapdash paper signs to communicate the seriousness of the situation. Invest in higher-quality, well-designed signs that reflect your brand to communicate restrictions or changes in procedures. It’s a good investment – you can use them for quick crisis responses in the future.
  • Don’t stop at the entrance. Be sure to place signs and prevention tips in areas where they will be seen, such as elevators and patient waiting areas. Make masks and hand sanitizer readily available in key visitor-facing areas.

Throughout the crisis

  • Leverage news media. Proactively pitch stories about work your organization is doing to keep the community safe. Provide regular updates on the number of flu cases you’re seeing. Offer interviews with physicians who can describe symptoms and offer prevention tips. Don’t stop after one story—there’s a strong appetite for helpful news about a public health crisis.
  • Ramp up social media. Create branded graphics highlighting easy-to-share prevention tips. Post videos of physicians and nurses talking about the flu and re-post positive news stories that feature your organization. Communicate preventive measures you are taking, such as visitor restrictions – as well as the reasons behind them.
  • Over-communicate restrictions. To lessen the flu’s spread, many hospitals have had to restrict – or even ban — children and others from visiting. If you’ve done that, use every public-facing communications channel available to explain the “what” and “why” behind the measures you’ve taken. When mishandled, restrictions can appear heavy-handed and create challenges for visitors. Do everything possible to prevent a patient’s family members or friends from being turned away at the door because they didn’t know about new restrictions.
  • Engage partners and influencers. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage community partners such as senior centers, schools and nursing homes by providing practical resources that include symptom checklists and prevention tips. Reformat materials you’re already using for employees and distribute them to organizations serving vulnerable populations. Make sure new materials, such as prevention toolkits, include your branding.
  • Use targeted internal communications tools. Create leader-specific one-pagers or talking points to update employees on what your organization is doing both internally and externally. Prepare talking points and an FAQ for employees and volunteers, including phone operators, information desk attendants, office employees at clinics – anyone who is helping with the effort. All staff and volunteers now need to be part of your internal communications strategy.

And, most importantly

  • Support Your People. Take every opportunity to express appreciation for the hard work and dedication of your caregivers. Walk the halls often and check in with employees. Distribute regular notes of appreciation from the CEO or other leaders. Consider including an inspirational story about a team or employee going above and beyond to meet the demand. Offer tokens of appreciation, such as a free meal in the cafeteria, donuts at shift changes or a voucher for a coffee. Small gestures go a long way towards making your employees feel like you understand the stress of their work. Employees are the key to a successful flu response – treat them as such.
Aaron Campbell