Ebola Shines Light on Healthcare’s Crisis Response Readiness

Woefully unprepared.

Ebola is frightening, and that fear is dominating newsrooms and executive meetings at hospitals around the country.  What is driving this immense reaction—especially among providers—to an infectious virus that has killed fewer patients than the flu, tuberculosis or HIV?

Ebola fuels two fears. First, the disease itself is infectious, mysterious and lethal. Secondly, the ability of our health systems to respond has revealed just how “sick” crisis response infrastructure is across health systems – regardless of size. Major metropolitan systems, as well as small rural hospitals serving towns of 2,000, are paralyzed as they simultaneously try to reassure staff, create processes to respond to the big (and rather unlikely) “if,” and calm community fears. So how can systems – large or small – ensure they are ready to handle Ebola or the next crisis of the moment?

Leaders anticipating a crisis can review some basics.

  • Ensure a crisis communication plan exists and is equipped to respond to today’s complex communications environment.
  • Assure the right leaders are ready to serve on the crisis response team. Clinical leaders, compliance and legal are “must have” participants.
  • Identify and target messaging to all key audiences. Remember, quelling community anxiety versus speaking to physicians requires different tactics and language.
  • Know your market. Understand what matters most to the patients, business leaders, community advocates, and politicians in your area. Leverage relationships and collective expertise during times of crisis.
  • Consider testing your leadership team’s readiness to respond. Providers are trained to respond to patient care emergencies – consider a simulated crisis training session for senior leaders.

The case for stronger, more coordinated responses to infectious disease is clear. Looking beyond Ebola, the flu and complications caused by the flu kill on average 23,000 people yearly in the U.S., according to the CDC.   As health systems use Ebola to evaluate employee communication and community response plans, we can all hope for one outcome – may the crisis response infrastructures strengthen, better enabling our health systems to care for patients under any circumstance.


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