Healthcare PR: VitalSmarts looks to remedy failures in medical comms

For more than 25 years, VitalSmarts has studied the best and worst practices of interpersonal skills and has taught companies and organizations how to overcome any barriers.

For more than 25 years, VitalSmarts has studied the best and worst practices of interpersonal skills and has taught companies and organizations how to overcome any barriers.

In particular, its research of late has shown that the healthcare field suffers from some of the most difficult communications barriers.

"People's lives are on the line when communications break down," says VitalSmarts PR manager Mary Dondiego of the company's decision to target more healthcare groups. "This has always been an industry we've served. We wanted to increase our visibility."


To help present its research on communications failures plaguing the healthcare industry, VitalSmarts teamed with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), which in turn brought in its PR agency, Fleishman-Hillard. The partnership with AACN would give VitalSmarts greater credibility and present the company with the faces and voices of nurses who deal with such communications breakdowns daily.

"We didn't want to make it seem like patients weren't getting care," says Fleishman account supervisor Courtney Davis. "But it was important to show how serious an issue this was, and VitalSmarts' research did that."

While AACN relied on this research to reinforce its concerns, VitalSmarts counted on the partnership with AACN to help position the company as best suited for improving communications within the healthcare industry, thereby reducing the number of medical mistakes and enhancing patient safety.

"We wanted even more validation and momentum behind the research, so we reached out to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations [JCAHO]," says Davis. "We had the president of the commission participate on a panel. We reached out to healthcare policy leaders. We presented this to inside-the-Beltway publications. We really wanted to get to the people who could make a difference."


VitalSmarts published its research and released the results at a national press conference in Washington, DC, with a panel that included leaders from AACN, JCAHO, and Clarian Health Partners.

As Fleishman focused on getting the research to national and trade press, VitalSmarts worked on a website targeting current and prospective healthcare clients. The company also developed case studies and briefings for healthcare executives and, following the webcast of the initial research presentation, launched web seminars introducing the firm to the industry.

"This is a problem that everyone can relate to, and I think the attention we got showed this is an important issue that people are taking seriously," says Davis.


The number of healthcare clients that purchased services from VitalSmarts during the first six months of 2005 increased 52%, compared to the first six months of 2004. And revenue increased 59% during that same period from healthcare clients - up from $323,800 in the first six months of 2004 to $515,600 during the first half of 2005.

The effort led to coverage in The Washington Post and The Toronto Star, as well as on websites such as WebMD. Reuters and Scripps Howard also covered the research, with several outlets picking up these articles.

Three websites developed for the campaign experienced a total of 217,856 hits during the first six months of this year. The sites attracted 30,059 unique visitors, who downloaded more than 87,000 documents.


VitalSmarts plans to continue its partnership with AACN and reach out to other organizations. While the company has focused heavily on research outlining communications problems, future work will spotlight solutions, says Dondiego.

PR team: VitalSmarts (Provo, UT), American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (Aliso Viejo, CA), and Fleishman-Hillard (Washington, DC)
Campaign: Silence Kills
Time frame: January to June 2005
Budget: $49,000

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