Section 4: Best Practices in Conducting Patient Notifications

This section contains some general tips and best practices to consider for the release of patient notification letters and in working with partners to spread your message.

Notification Event as Prevention Opportunity

When to Notify Patients

Patient notification letters should be timed to allow you to effectively manage and support the situation as well as give patients adequate time to seek medical care and take advantage of other services (e.g., a call center). Below is a list to consider when planning the release of notification letters .

Releasing Patient Notification Letters
Plan on releasing patient notification letters early in the week

It is best that patient notification letters be delivered early in the week. Patients will need several days to understand and process what has happened and they will also need to contact the appropriate people (e.g., physicians, health departments). Mailing letters early in the week will not only give patients more time to figure out what is happening but it will also give organizations and health departments adequate time to promptly address patient concerns.

Be aware of holidays

Avoid mailing notification letters when people (and your staff) are likely to be on vacation. It is best if recipients can make necessary appointments for testing within a day or two of receiving a letter and your staff/call center should be in place to respond to inquiries. If possible, mail letters early in a week free of holidays.

Think about the media and the timing of their press release

Press releases or media notification should be appropriately timed with patient notification letters. It may be best to alert media after letters have been sent to patients. For example, mail letters to patients on Monday and conduct media outreach on Tuesday. This allows patients to access healthcare by Friday.

Do not delay!

Do not postpone mailing notification letters. Send the letters as soon as possible.

Prepare for a flood of phone calls

Expect patients to begin calling soon after notification letters have been mailed. The bulk of calls will be received during the first day. Therefore, it will be important to:

  • Ensure that the call center is up and running when the letters are received.
  • Provide advance training to call center representatives.
  • Provide a regular schedule for event updates.
Communicating with Key Stakeholders and Partners

A stakeholder is a person, group, or organization that has a direct or indirect interest in a project or event. As your event unfolds, you should anticipate the involvement of all stakeholders. These people or organizations will expect something from you such as: updates on when you will be releasing information, talking points, and guidance for healthcare providers and patients. It will be important to establish a communication relationship, even if you have to do it during this crisis.

Establishing Community Relations
  • Identify the core stakeholders (e.g. individual medical licensing board, governor’s office, local political figures, professional organizations, patient advocates, health insurance providers)
  • Anticipate and assess the incident from the stakeholder perspective
  • Be prepared to respond to their questions
  • Provide timely, accurate information
  • Focus on common concerns and reactions that will have to be addressed
  • Give stakeholders periodic updates including talking points, and resources for their use
Develop Strategies to Minimize Negative Reactions

Throughout your event, there will be many negative reactions. Remember that patients will likely feel fear, loss of trust, and lack of control. To help minimize or alleviate those reactions:

  • Use messaging that demonstrates credibility and builds trust:
    • Show empathy and care
    • Be honest, open, and sincere in your communication and actions
    • Demonstrate your dedication and commitment (for example, “Our healthcare facility is dedicated to ensuring that our patients receive safe care”).
    • Show competence and expertise
  • Encourage stakeholder feedback
    • Listen to and acknowledge the public’s concerns
  • Demonstrate commitment  to long–term support of the community;
    • Maintain a visible, ongoing presence
    • Set up accountability mechanisms.
    • State what you will do to address the issue and how you will report back.
  • Promise only what you can deliver, then follow through.