Clean, orderly, and efficient — these are just a few of the words that probably come to mind when you think of the healthcare setting. But what happens when things go awry and a crisis hits your hospital, medical office, or other healthcare organization?
From security breaches to natural disasters, managing a crisis is a major test for any healthcare setting — one that no one wants to deal with. And while the problems may vary, the solutions remain largely the same, and it’s critical you’re prepared.
In order to avoid exacerbating a crisis, it’s key to have a plan and get back to caring for patients as soon as possible. Fortunately, many of the solutions are surprisingly simple.
Here are 5 key concepts to managing a crisis in your healthcare space.
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
On a normal day, communication is important. But when a crisis strikes, it becomes even more critical. You need to be able to relay information quickly, clearly, and efficiently.
And in a healthcare setting, there are plenty of forms of communication to consider from pagers to intercom systems all the way to pen and paper.
Take all of your systems into account and make a plan for how you’ll use them. When will you utilize pagers, emails, or the intercom system? Will certain information need to be relayed on multiple channels? Remember — many of your employees may not necessarily be by a desk phone.
For many organizations, the telephone is the go-to tool for communication in a crisis. However, secured messaging comes in close second. Whatever your preferred method, just make sure it’s encrypted if it involves patient health information.
You may want to consider a system that allows you to funnel communications to multiple systems so that one operator can send out emergency information without taking the time to log in to each one separately.
The bottom line is that you need to establish how you’re going to communicate — and what needs to be communicated to your staff. Once you can manage the communication aspect, the rest of your crisis management plan will come along much smoother.
2. Be ready to be left on your own island (literally).
During a crisis, you may be partially — if not completely — cut off from the outside world. Don’t take offense (it’s not purposeful), but do make sure you’re prepared.
Events from floods to power outages to closed roads can make it difficult or impossible to communicate externally. For instance, in 2017, Hurricane Irma threatened to physically isolate Tampa General Hospital from the rest of the city on its own temporary island.
As a result, the hospital couldn’t rely on the internet, and it needed to use its data recovery servers to continue to stay online. The hospital also needed to resort to backup generators and diesel fuel for 4 days — all to keep caring for patients.
Connection with others isn’t just about communication. You should also plan for reduced access to supplies and equipment by having an emergency supply on hand at all times. Being left without protective gear or medicine will make it harder for your team to provide care to patients.
Finance experts always say that you should keep emergency funds in your bank account for a job loss or another personal crisis. In the healthcare setting, being prepared for an emergency goes way beyond just money — patient lives are on the line.
3. Use current technology that works.
Fifty years ago, you may have been cut some slack if you weren’t totally up to speed with the most recent technology. Now, there’s little excuse for lacking the latest technology, and you should make sure to stay up-to-date with what’s out there to help you through a crisis.
For instance, it may be critical to know where everyone is during a crisis, including employees as well as patients. The quicker you can reunite patients with their loved ones the better — but a campus that sits on millions of square feet can make that challenging.
The technology-based solution to this may be as simple as using smartphones linked to a secure communication platform that allows staff to share pictures. These can be temporarily available on your server — and they can be restricted from being uploaded or sent to anyone without access.
The right technology can keep everybody in the know, including critical members of your response team and first responders. The sooner everyone has the information they need, the more efficiently they’ll be able to respond.
It’s time to say out with the old and in with the new — especially if it’ll save the lives of people within your hospital walls.
4. But don’t rule out low-tech solutions.
Technology is great and all, but sometimes the best solution may require zero machines. High-tech solutions may be the most effective option much of the time, but don’t disregard simpler — and sometimes more effective — approaches to a crisis.
When Princeton Community Hospital was facing a security breach, they went back to the safest form of documentation for the time being: pen and paper.
While they worked on leveraging their cloud crisis, they used a basic — and unbreachable — model. In the meantime, they were able to keep patient data as safe as possible.
You can also use old-school forms of communication, such as a printed phone tree or walkie talkies. After Hurricane Irma, Tampa General took an interest in ham radios (also known as amateur radios) for communication. Now, they have a ham radio in their command center — complete with antennas that communicate to other parts of their campus in case other forms of communication become unavailable.
Technology can be helpful, and it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. But you may need to take advantage of the tried and true processes that used to keep healthcare situations functioning effectively in the past.
5. Teach, train, repeat.
During a high-pressure basketball game, players rely on their muscle memory to dribble, shoot, and block. A crisis in the healthcare setting is no different — your employees should be able to rely on muscle memory to get them through the chaos and confusion.
Knowing exactly what to do comes from training and drills — which help everyone react reflexively and know exactly what’s expected of them.
Update your training and testing methods frequently, preferably at least once a year. Then, make sure you give your team members the time to practice their roles during a crisis. This should involve everything from how they should communicate to what they can expect from leadership. The few surprises, the calmer everyone will be.
Crises in healthcare spaces can take many forms — but your reaction should have similar key components to ensure patient and employee safety is prioritized. The environment may get a little hectic, but control chaos is acceptable — and possibly necessary. As long as you’re prioritizing the safety of your patients and staff, the rest will follow.