Lessons Learned From the Texas Ebola Case

Whether you are a part of the healthcare industry or not, lessons on crisis communication can be learned from the recent Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Ebola case. The way the hospital and its parent system handled the case and their public relations management has been under intense scrutiny in a “crisis-induced media storm.” This has left some key takeaways on crisis communication applicable to any organization. 

1. Consistent Messaging 

While treating the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., Texas Health was criticized for releasing Thomas Eric Duncan from the ER upon his initial visit. The hospital initially released a statement that miscommunication amongst staff members was responsible for doctors not knowing Duncan had recently traveled to Liberia, a country that has been greatly affected by the Ebola outbreak. Several days later, Texas Health stated that an issue related to its electronic health workflow was to blame for the miscommunication that resulted in the discharge of Duncan. This statement was quickly withdrawn within several hours, adding tension to the situation. 

The Lesson:  In a crisis situation, accurate and consistent messaging is critical. A messaging strategy must be decided up on and delivered consistently as to not compound a crisis situation with conflicting messages and information. This only feeds the fury and public/media distrust.

2. Transparent Communication 

The hospital and Texas Health limited the availability of information following Duncan’s death, allowing for accusations of racism in his treatment to swirl out of control. Claims that Duncan’s lack of health insurance may have played a role in his initial release from the ER have also surfaced, adding fuel to the media-driven fire. In response, Texas Health denied these accusations, stating that Duncan was provided the “most appropriate and available medical interventions” by healthcare staff. 

The Lesson: In the heat of a crisis, it is crucial to break silence and foresee where allegations such as these might arise. With such a new and scary topic like Ebola, lack of information only increased fear and public distrust. Providing as much accurate information as possible, as early as possible, is a good rule of thumb in crisis situations. Communicating facts early and frequently lessens the opportunities for speculation. 

3. Proactive Messaging 

In a case such as the Texas Ebola crisis, it was imperative that the hospital and health system communicated what measures it was taking to ensure an incident, such as this, would never occur again. Constant communication, such as daily updates and conferences, helped reduce the likelihood of inaccurate information surfacing and helped ease public unrest during the crisis. 

The Lesson:  If a crisis occurs, acknowledge it, act quickly and think forward to the next steps in preventing it from happening again. Consult with PR professionals to understand how to communicate this plan correctly to the public and the media. Working proactively helps get in front of a crisis situation and conveys that the crisis situation is under control. If you have any questions our PR experts are always available to answer questions and advise. Call us today, we are here to help! (866) 252-1750.