Healthcare PR study finds focus on internal comms

KNOXVILLE, TN: Employee relations, second to media relations, is the number-one driver of PR programming at healthcare companies, according to Ackermann PR's new Healthcare Communications Fitness Study. It was the only vehicle identified by all five surveyed segments of the industry - providers, payers, medical device, medical IT, and outsourcing companies.

KNOXVILLE, TN: Employee relations, second to media relations, is the number-one driver of PR programming at healthcare companies, according to Ackermann PR's new Healthcare Communications Fitness Study. It was the only vehicle identified by all five surveyed segments of the industry - providers, payers, medical device, medical IT, and outsourcing companies.

Robert Cathey, the VP for Ackermann who oversaw the survey, said the attention to employee relations is noteworthy because there was a "huge disparity" between responses from the provider and payer segments and the other three on most other issues.

Representatives from three of the five - all except outsourcing and medical devices - cited the health insurance portability and accountability act (HIPAA) as the top reason for an increasing internal focus.

Outsourcing and medical devices named educating providers about the value of outsourcing and fluctuating reimbursement rates as their top concern.

The patient-privacy legislation, which went into effect on April 14, requires that healthcare providers implement standards that will protect against the misuse of patients' medical records.

Cathey explained, "An organization's compliance with HIPAA is going to be determined by the legislation. PR programming is being adapted so that employees understand the messages being developed according to the litigation landscape."

Internal distribution of company information, staff training, litigation expertise, and crisis communications were all noted as beefed-up components in participating organizations' PR programs as a result of HIPAA.

The study, which involved 30-minute phone interviews with five people from each segment, is the first installment in a series of biannual surveys. Ackermann has a follow-up survey planned for later this fall to examine how the next HIPAA deadline will affect PR programs. This final piece of legislation, which will require payers to accept data from providers in a specific format, is expected to pass on October 16.

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