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Case Examples: How Two Hospitals Handled the Media Run-up to the ACA Decision

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

news reporterWe want to spotlight two great hospital marketing and public relations examples that we noticed in the news recently. For administrators and communications professionals, these are hospital case examples with lessons worth emulating.

Both Scripps Health (San Diego) and Cleveland Clinic (uh…in Cleveland) offered textbook performances just days ahead of the US Supreme Court’s decision about the ACA—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

First, a bit of context…

The news media—in particular, national news entities with lots of time to fill—has a love-hate relationship with “cliff-hanger” events. They love having a predictable, upcoming “news event,” but two or three days in advance, they hate having little more to say than…“coming soon.”

So the news media turns to authoritative voices—industry leaders, experts and others—for material about what is yet to happen. It was in this context—hours before the Court’s decision—that Scripps Health CEO, Chris Van Gorder, and Cleveland Clinic CEO, Delos (Toby) Cosgrove, MD, had surprisingly similar things to say to the public in separate and unrelated interviews.

Regarding the (then pending) ACA ruling, both authorities reminded the media and the public that healthcare reform was already underway.

"Regardless of what the court decides,” Mr. Van Gorder said in a news report, “health care in this country is already changing and must keep evolving, because it's broken. "This crisis presents a challenge and an incredible opportunity for physicians and hospitals to fundamentally reshape the future of health care."

And about 2,500 miles away, Dr. Cosgrove spoke via a Bloomberg broadcast interview saying, “The train has already left the station…healthcare reform is already in place. We know that we have to take costs out of healthcare [and] we know that we have to continue to improve the quality of care.” Most providers, including Cleveland Clinic, have accomplished much in the past two or three years.

What can be learned from these examples.

Take a few minutes to review Mr. Van Gorder’s comments here, and watch the Bloomberg interview with Dr. Cosgrove here. Some of the practical lessons for other hospitals include:

Go ahead and speak-up. If an opportunity presents itself, step into the media spotlight. Be aware of the media’s need and connect to it with own relevant message.

Handle a controversial subject with care and confidence. Healthcare reform has its pros and cons, but there was no need to “take sides.” Instead, both speakers took the high road. They named problems head-on; spoke about solutions and actions. What’s more, they acknowledged the need to do more.

The media loves pithy verbal gems. It makes for interesting journalism and the message is more memorable with quotes such as: “Health care…must keep evolving, because it’s broken.” (Mr. Van Gorder) And: “The [healthcare reform] train has already left the station…” (Dr. Cosgrove)

Come armed with facts. In both of our examples, the comments were not overtly self-promotional, but supporting facts recognized accomplishments and illustrated benefits. (How an investment in Electronic Medical Records reduces costs, or reducing emergency wait times improves quality of care.)

The news occasion isn’t always national in scope, but being the “voice of authority” is an excellent, if sometimes brief, moment to work with the news media. It’s also a platform to communicate something relevant about your own organization. And there’s related reading in this previous post.

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