Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Proactive communication remains paramount during COVID-19 pandemic

Two military personnel with mask on talking, while one is writing on a notepad Face-to-face communication is often the most effect way to get out your message, and dispel rumors (Photo by Army Sgt. Spencer Rhodes)

Recommended Content:

Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Crisis and innovation seem intricately linked throughout history, perhaps most notably in the field of health care. Combat medicine has led to incredible life-saving breakthroughs—from tourniquets and the use of whole blood to triage, to advanced medical evacuation, and the use of data in patient care.

Our nation’s most recent crisis is no exception. This pandemic has spurred incredible progress in research, virtual health, video teleconferencing technology and the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma to help those battling the COVID-19 disease. Microsoft TEAMS, Zoom and contract tracing weren’t household names prior to the pandemic. 

As communicators, we would be remiss if we didn’t also take this opportunity to seek out more effective, innovative ways to disseminate information based on the best practices of the past nine months. The pandemic is a fast-moving train, without much down time for reflection, but it’s important to take a pause and determine what is working, what is not, and how to adjust course. 

The following are my top five communications lessons learned thus far during this COVID-19 pandemic:

Military personnel typing on a laptop in an office
Army Capt. Kelly Spencer, a brigade nurse and the officer-in-charge of the 82-bed minimal care ward at the Seattle Event Center in downtown Seattle, Wash., checks her email at the nurse’s station last April. Email is one or many ways to communicate your message to a large audience (Photo by: Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent C. Powell).

Speak early. You will lose momentum if you allow disinformation to supersede your truthful, accurate information. When there is a service, program or process change, use every means available to get the word out immediately across all media platforms. Send out a press release, share it on your sites, create a short video message, set up a hotline, leverage a text message service, or push notifications on your app. Many organizations have created a COVID-19-specific section of their internal and external sites to lessen confusion about where to find official information.

Pushing out information quickly can be challenging due to required coordination. In this case, explain the need for a quick turnaround and stress the importance of passing on critical information as soon as possible. We have ample evidence that patients would rather hear about changes related to their health care from their hospital or clinic vs. a media outlet.

  • Quickly getting out accurate information will build trust with your audiences.

 Speak often. It’s just not enough to send one email out to staff or to make one social media post regarding an important topic, particularly in regard to COVID-19. We have all learned in our basic communication classes that in any presentation you tell them what you’re going to tell them, you tell them, and then you tell them what you told them!  You can’t over communicate health care information and you can’t assume everyone uses your social media platform for their information! Use a variety of mediums frequently to pass information. If you don’t want to clutter up email boxes, create a single daily or weekly news update and push that out instead. Keep it concise and relevant. Remember, you have staff who may not work at computers or have time to wade through pages of information. 

Once you post information, don’t walk away. Respond in a timely way, especially on your social media platforms. People are hungry for information and don’t want to wait three days for a response. At Brooke Army Medical Center, we recently hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall about the COVID-19 vaccine program and did our best to answer every question—and there were hundreds! Many were repetitive or had been covered in the Town Hall, but we answered them anyway. Your timely responses help to show the public your organization truly cares.

  • People are hungry for information, so be sure to over-communicate. 

Speak with accuracy and transparency. Always be transparent and as accurate as possible in your communications, whether speaking with the media or one of your stakeholders. If you can’t discuss details – whether due to HIPAA, operational security or propriety information – don’t dodge the question. Rather, explain WHY there are information restrictions. The reality is, if you don’t tell your story someone else will, and it might not be an accurate depiction. Nothing will destroy trust quicker than a lack of honesty and transparency. 

Over the summer, as SARS-CoV-2 virus infection rates skyrocketed, the staff and leadership at BAMC we were questioned about our ability to accept non-military beneficiaries who had COVID-19 into our hospital. By law, we’re not able to do for all. The public perception was that the hospital was sitting out the pandemic – in turn, this affected staff morale. In truth, there were a multitude of ways we were helping to ease the stress on the community health care system. Instead of dodging the questions, we explained the requirements under the law and then offered additional information about the other support we were providing our community. 

  • If you say nothing, you are allowing someone else to share their perspective of what you are doing - without your voice being heard.  

Speak with empathy. The pandemic has underscored the importance of empathy in communication, particularly within the health care system. Frontline health care workers are exhausted and overworked; patients are facing unprecedented uncertainty and fear; and family members are having to suffer through illnesses, alone. It’s more important than ever to express empathy for what they are going through, not in a self-serving way to garner donations or praise, but with sincerity and a true sense of understanding. 

Messages need to begin with empathy for the concerns that patients or staff might have and end with another positive message of concern, whether it be for their quality, safe care or their wellbeing as a health care worker. It’s called the peanut-butter sandwich. In the middle, you nest the accurate, transparent information you must share. We received several heartfelt notes and emails about how caring our staff was during a difficult time and shared them in the commander’s weekly message accompanied by a message of gratitude.

  • Whether speaking or writing to your staff, patients, or your community, ensure you are sharing a message of compassion, empathy and hope.

One message, many voices. It’s difficult, particularly in larger organizations, to ensure messaging is consistent and accurate. By the time news leaves the Command suite or Front Office, it’s as if a game of telephone kicks in and a much different version reaches the frontline workers. Emails and text messages will only go so far. While communicators can assist with talking points and posts to media platforms, leaders must also use the most successful means of communication—word-of-mouth. Often, this is the most effective means to proliferate the messaging throughout the ranks— pass on news via email and reinforce during team huddles and rounding. 

Military personnel being interviewed while wearing a mask
Local media interviews provide an effective means to communicate your message to a broad audience – beyond just your base or military medical treatment facility (Photo by: Navy Seaman Alfonso Ortiz-Lopez).

As communicators, it’s our duty to maintain consistency across our various platforms. And when the rumors and different perspectives pop up, we must all be ready to transform into myth busters. Equip your internal and external audiences with multiple avenues to ask questions to dispel rumors, whether a hotline, email or open-door policies. When we launched the vaccine program, misperceptions and rumors – from DNA-altering ingredients to live virus inclusion – were spreading as quickly as the virus. To help mitigate rumors, we launched an email program in which staff can ask an infectious disease physician any question and are using them in a Frequently Asked Question document on our internal and external sites.

  • Face-to-face communication is often the most effective way to get out your message, and dispel rumors.

Finally, I’d like to emphasize the importance of teamwork. Communication teams have been in high demand over the past year.  Lean on your teammates and take time off to rest and recharge. If you’re in a one-person shop, seek out help from your higher headquarters to arrange some much-needed down time.  They often can monitor your social media if they have administrative rights.  Alternatively, invite hobbyists who can pitch in with taking photos or writing copy in their spare time. I’ve had a few incredible high school and college interns who were thrilled to help out, whether it was for the experience or the credits. I benefited from their social media savvy and fresh outlook, and they benefited with published work they can feature in a portfolio. Definitely a win-win.

In the midst of this public health crisis, we can either keep doing business as usual or use this opportunity to improve and innovate. I’ve been incredibly impressed at what has been accomplished so far in medicine and technology and hope we can apply this same innovative spirit to our internal and external communication. To start, take some time to think about how you have or can improve communication in your organization, and please share your ideas with your public affairs and communication colleagues. I look forward to hearing your success stories and lessons learned.

Elaine Sanchez is a seasoned communications professional with more than 24 years in communications, and currently serves as the Communications Division Chief at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. BAMC is the one of the Department of Defense's largest facilities with a staff of more than 8,000 dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen, civilians and contractors supporting a 425-bed Academic Medical Center and the DOD’s only Level 1 Trauma Center.

You also may be interested in...

AFHSD’s GEIS collect data worldwide to support force protection

Article
12/22/2020
Medical personnel scanning forehead of soldier with thermometer

AFHSD/GEIS continue work with partners across the globe in their efforts to combat COVID-19 and protect military readiness.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health | Coronavirus | Biological Surveillance Tools | Global Health Engagement | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Frontline Indiana Guardsmen receive COVID-19 vaccination

Article
12/18/2020
Soldier getting a vaccine in his left arm

These Guardsmen are trained medics who also took Centers for Disease Control and Prevention courses specific to the coronavirus.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Defense Health Agency Director: Vaccine rollout safe and effective

Article
12/18/2020
Military personnel giving a vaccine to a soldier in her right arm

“In the coming months as the vaccine becomes more widely available, we strongly encourage everyone to get this vaccine,” Place stressed.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

CDC provides COVID-19 vaccine best practices for healthcare providers

Article
12/17/2020
Medical personnel filling a syringe from a vaccine bottle

[T]he Defense Health Agency’s Immunization Healthcare Division (IHD) is working in collaboration with the CDC to offer the training to the Military Health System’s health care providers.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

COVID-19 surge spurs readiness efforts at Brooke Army Medical Center

Article
12/17/2020
Two hospital personnel, wearing masks, looking at a computer screen

Equipped with lessons learned, BAMC is preparing to shift resources and personnel to ensure hospital readiness in the event of a patient increase.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

DHA contributes to COVID-19 vaccine effort

Article
12/16/2020
Vaccine bottles

While Pfizer’s vaccine is being distributed to all U.S. jurisdictions for administration, several more candidates are in development and clinical trials continue to be conducted simultaneously with pharmaceutical partners.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Frontline health care workers among first in DOD for COVID-19 vaccine

Article
12/15/2020
Man getting vaccine

"This is a very important day, not just for the Department of Defense, but for our nation," Miller said before getting his vaccination.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

COVID-19 Vaccine Headed to NMC San Diego and NH Camp Pendleton

Article
12/15/2020
Gloved hands preparing vaccine for transportation

[T]he first doses of the vaccine will be given to frontline health care workers and first responders, including emergency medical services personnel, security forces, and other essential personnel.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

COVID-19 Convalescent plasma collection continues

Article
12/14/2020
Three units of CCP laying on a table

CCP has a one-year shelf life, so collected units will begin to expire in 2021.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | Armed Services Blood Program

Deputy defense secretary stresses team approach in battling COVID

Article
12/10/2020
Soldier wearing mask, standing at computer monitors in an office building

The Military Health System has played an important role implementing the National Defense Strategy, Norquist said.

Recommended Content:

Military Health System Transformation | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Health Readiness | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

DOD Officials Announce Distribution Plan for Initial COVID-19 Vaccine

Article
12/10/2020
Image of Mr. McCaffery speaking at a podium at the Pentagon

DOD is expected to receive around 44,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the initial phase.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

MHS leaders discuss future of military medicine during AMSUS panel

Article
12/9/2020
Military personnel, wearing masks, standing in a line in front of flags

For Dingle, readiness is the key issue during the transition.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | Military Health System Transformation

DOD Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan

Article
12/9/2020
Soldier wearing mask, sitting in front of computer monitors

The Department prioritizes DOD personnel to receive the vaccine based on CDC guidance.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Pandemic underscores MHS’ need for reform, McCaffery tells AMSUS

Article
12/8/2020
Army soldier gets nose swab

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the MHS had embarked on reforms and initiatives to improve its medical support to the armed services.

Recommended Content:

Military Health System Transformation | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Vaccine Trials | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

BACH behavioral health team honored with Army’s Wolf Pack Award

Article
11/17/2020
Military personnel standing in a room, listening to a speaker

The ceremony honored eight individuals and three teams who contributed to exceeding the goal of collecting 10,000 units of COVID-19 convalescent plasma.

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care Toolkit | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program
<< < ... 6 7 8 > >> 
Showing results 76 - 90 Page 6 of 8

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.