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Transparency is the best policy

July 26th, 2012

by Raymond Hino

Can you remember a time in your healthcare career when bad news occurred in your organization and your greatest fear was that it would get into the public domain?

It seems like with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp and communication devices such as smart phones it is virtually impossible for a high-profile healthcare institution to hide a negative experience.

For me, I have found that "transparency is the best policy."

I began my journey into transparency many years ago by creating a regular weekly written communiqué to key stakeholders, such as employees, medical staff, board members and the community. It is a one-page color document that can be easily emailed to my audience. I call it my "Monday Morning Briefing." For nearly eight years I rarely, if ever, missed a week.

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A few years ago I modernized my technique with the times and created a "CEO Blog." I enjoy writing and this was a great way for me to stay in touch. Today my blog is featured prominently on our hospital website. Mostly I use it to talk about the good things that are happening at our hospital. An example might be an announcement about the first baby born in our hospital for the year or a new piece of equipment or new staff member coming on board.

However, earlier this year I found myself using the blog as a way to get critical information out to our employees and the public during a time of crisis.

Due to a "perfect storm" situation of an extremely mild winter season, the effects of our sluggish economy and long term financial commitments, we experienced extremely poor operating results in the first quarter of 2012. In fact, they were the worst operating results of my career. I have often heard the following saying before, but it never had more meaning to me than in the early months of this year. "It's not what happens to you, it's what you do about it."

My blog became a key to our crisis communications. I was able to put out clear communications in a timely fashion. We even put out daily email blasts with a tag line: "For more information look up my CEO blog."

It became a two-way communication tool as well. We found that employees and people from the community could write in and comment or ask questions about our hospital's predicament and our action plan.

Since early this year, my blog has become a way to balance positive stories about how our hospital is persevering in tough times. But, of course, I also talk about some of the challenges we continue to face.

Blogging may not be for everybody. But it certainly works for me. I have recently been told by people, even across the country, that our website is one of the most informative websites when it comes to communicating factual information about our hospital. Whether you blog, send out email blasts or write memos, I highly encourage you to stay out in front of bad news when it comes your way. Be transparent! That way you have the best chance to control the message and, hopefully, not let it get out of hand.

Raymond Hino, MPA, FACHE, is the Chief Executive Officer of Mendocino Coast District Hospital in California.

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