The never-ending news cycle ups the ante for maintaining credibility

In a fast-paced world of instant news and information, there is an increase in coverage that is not always fair, balanced, and put into the right context for the public.

The communications world is changing rapidly—enough to make your head spin. As PR professionals, communication strategists, and storytellers, we must remain committed to ethical practices, truth, and transparency, and conduct ourselves with a high level of integrity to preserve our personal and institutional reputations.

In a fast-paced world of instant news and information, there is an increase in coverage that is not always fair, balanced, and put into the right context for the public. Communication pros must work that much harder to ensure that the information they provide is accurate, transparent, and timely to maintain trust and credibility with journalists, the public, and our patients.

For Cleveland Clinic, a major source of information for our patients is the news coverage that runs locally, nationally, and globally. Although the vast majority of that coverage is highly positive, more challenging stories need to be handled very carefully to maintain credibility and establish a clear understanding for our patients on more sensitive issues.

In one example, Cleveland Clinic was nearing the end of a long-term contract and relationship with a Medicaid provider in Ohio and beginning good-faith negotiations to renew our contract. Unexpectedly, there were moments where it seemed as if the relationship might end, potentially leaving several thousands of our patients without access to our health system and their personal doctors. The local media ran daily stories to update the public on what might happen and the consequences for our patients. A perception was beginning to form that we did not want to be in the Medicaid business, which was far from the truth. However, if the contract did not renew, thousands of our patients’ care would be disrupted as they would need to scramble to change where they received their care.

After working closely with our finance and insurance teams, a great deal of effort and work was put into contracting with other providers during open enrollment so patients could choose to change providers to keep access to their doctors and hospitals within our system if necessary. In the end, the contract was renewed, but very late in the process and after causing patients stress and anxiety.

From a communications perspective, the messaging on this issue evolved each day, both internally and externally, and was very critical to preserve the belief that we truly cared about this population of patients, their continuity of care, and their trust in our health system.

Whether you're in the healthcare industry or not, maintaining your public trust and reputation can truly impact the satisfaction of your customers and the bottom line of your business. To quote Warren Buffet, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently."

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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