Preparing very early yesterday morning for a presentation to the Ontario Hospital Association on new dynamics in crisis communications, I realized just how tough hospital communicators have it. Most of their audiences feel deeply ambivalent about the hospital: Patients and their families -- in Ontario, Canada in any case -- about the quality and timeliness of the delivery of the facility's core service and the protection of their personal health infomation; the hospital's health professionals about the pressures on them of under-funding and over-work; communities about the accessibility of service; politicians about the hospital's ability to manage the funding it receives.
Marry this with some of the problems endemic to Ontario's health care system (after 15 years of abusive treatment by various provincial governments) including shortages of physicians, nurses, emergency and operating room spaces, and acute care hospital beds, and you have a 'perfect storm' of conflict with which hospital communicators have to wrestle every day. I know, as well, they are relatively poorly paid and lack many of the resources most corporate communicators have at their disposal.
Having said that, I did stress in my presentation that all communicators -- even those who face the every day challenges of hospital community and stakeholder relations -- have a responsibility to take the measure of social media as a possible strategy. The simple fact is that even for hospital communicators with limited budgets, blogging, for example, is an alternative method of engaging communities in discussion about hospital issues or even rallying those communities in support of hospital initiatives. Lack of time; lack of budget; limited understanding; tough internal approval procedures . . . they are just excuses.