Media crisis management support

If an adverse event occurs at your hospital or clinic, you may receive media inquiries before your organization is prepared to answer questions about the situation.

Perhaps you are gathering information about what happened or maybe your management team needs to discuss the matter before responding to media. Having an established media protocol in place to manage crisis communications is essential.

Following a media protocol — even when there is no crisis — ensures that you respond to media inquiries in a timely and professional manner that supports the best interests of your organization’s business operations, reputation and legal position.

While a communication plan will provide key messages, timing and talking points for your spokesperson, the following questions and answers offer guidance for fielding initial media calls or visits.

Q: How can I quickly prepare my staff for media inquiries following an adverse event?

A: If there is even a remote possibility that the media will cover the story, immediately distribute an email to all staff directing them not to engage with media. Include your media protocol document with step-by-step guidelines on how to handle media inquiries.

Remind employees of confidentiality rules pertaining to patient and facility information. Remind them that they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization, and to direct all media inquiries to the organization’s designated spokesperson.

Q: What should I do if a reporter calls our clinic/hospital?

A: If a reporter calls an employee or phones the main reception line and begins asking questions, use the following protocol and script:

  • Get the reporter’s name, phone number, media organization and deadline for the story.
  • Tell the reporter that you will forward the message to the appropriate person and someone will get back to him/her very soon.
  • Immediately direct the information to a manager or the spokesperson for the event, who should then follow internal protocols for escalating adverse events.
  • Do not engage in any further conversation with the reporter. Do not chit-chat, as some reporters try to get information by being friendly to staff. There is no such thing as “off the record.” A reporter may use anything you say.

Script: “I will forward your information and message to the appropriate person. What organization are you with? What is your contact information? What is your deadline? I will pass on the message, and somebody will get back to you soon.”

Q: What if a reporter shows up at our facility with a television camera crew?

A: If a reporter or camera crew comes to your facility:

  • Calmly obtain the name, phone number and media organization of the reporter.
  • Inform the reporter or crew that due to privacy concerns for your patients, they
    must leave.

Script: “This is a medical facility. Due to privacy concerns for our patients, we cannot allow you to enter with your camera. I will have to ask you to leave now. Someone from our office will get in touch with you shortly.”

Q: What if I receive a call from a reporter whom I know personally and he/she has a few innocent questions? Can I answer them?

A: Under no circumstances should anyone contacted by a “friendly” reporter asking seemingly “innocent” questions answer any questions whatsoever. Instead, be polite, state that you are not authorized to speak on the organization’s behalf, ask for the reporter’s deadline and tell the reporter that someone will be in touch soon.

Q: What if I am approached by a reporter as I am leaving work?

A: Calmly tell the reporter that you are not the authorized spokesperson and that you are sorry but cannot help them. Tell the reporter to call the main switchboard of your organization, and the appropriate person will be located. Do not argue or try to avoid the reporter. Stay professional at all times.