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Patient Notification Toolkit

Section 2: Planning Media and Communication Strategies

Planning the Release of Media and Patient Notification Letters

The following resources will help guide media and communication strategies. Note that some of these are intended for novice communications professionals.

Think Local Media first

  • A patient notification event is first and foremost a local story. Don’t ignore local media in favor of the national media and the recognized names.
  • Local media are counting on local officials to work with them.
  • Let media know how often updates will be provided (perhaps every day in the first week, then once a week, then when new information is available).
  • To best meet all local media’s needs equally and in a timely manner you may want to provide daily press statements via the health department website as well as provide regular interviews for press.
    • Consider having a spokesperson do stand-up interviews each day for local broadcast television stations. An interview is helpful for the morning, noon, and early evening local news.
    • Have the names and contacts of other spokespersons who may be available for press representing other groups involved in the response (examples may include someone from the state health department, governor’s office if applicable, facility licensing board for the state, local health department, local infection preventionist who can speak about topics such as bloodborne infection transmission and the risks of unsafe injection practices)
    • Consider updating information on your website at the same time each day, and let media know when to check for daily updates.
  • Use your updates to the media to correct misinformation and to provide new information.

Consider other items needed to tell a complete story

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the key messages that you want conveyed to each of the following:
    • patients
    • healthcare providers
    • other members of the community
  2. Are there other people that the reporter should interview to tell a complete story?
  3. Do you have graphics or other supporting materials to best illustrate how transmission could occur in this infection control breach?  
  4. Is your spokesperson prepared for any tough questions?  Ask your spokesperson – are there any questions you are concerned about being asked?  Work with them to develop answers.
  5. Are you coordinating with other affected communicators (e.g., healthcare facility, local/state public health, CDC, professional organizations)?  Do these communicators have your talking points so you are all providing consistent messaging?

Consider the size of your notification and the perspectives at each level:

  • At the local level – think local perspective.  Be able to answer questions such as:
    • Is the healthcare provider still practicing?
    • Is clinic still open?
    • Where should patients go for testing?
  • At the state level – think from a broader perspective to anticipate questions you may be asked such as:
    • Is this happening in other clinics or healthcare facilities in the state?
    • How does this state compare with other states?
    • How often are clinics inspected?
    • Is this a priority or has funding been recently cut?
    • When has this type of event occurred in the past?
  • At the national level – think from a national perspective to anticipate questions you may be asked such as:
    • Is this happening in other states?
    • What are the regulatory implications?
    • What are the accreditation issues?
    • What is being done to prevent this from happening in the future?

Whichever level(s) of media interaction fits your situation, the key is to have consistent information flowing back and forth between the official spokespersons at each level of the response.

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