In today's media landscape, hospitals and healthcare institutions face heightened scrutiny. I was reminded of this, the frustrating one-sidedness of it, and the potential damage it can inflict on our work, in the on-going New York Times series “Profits over Patients.” There’s an old journalism adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” and this series and others like it seem determined to show as much carnage as possible instead of the countless times hospitals provide the bandages and the cures.
This negative press can erode public trust in hospitals, creating skepticism about the quality of care, patient safety, and overall organizational integrity. High-profile stories highlighting medical errors, billing controversies, or misconduct can shape public opinion, making individuals hesitant to seek treatment. These stories also diminish confidence in the hospital's ability to use funds effectively and ethically, causing potential donors to divert their support to other organizations or choose not to contribute at all.
Because negative narratives tend to overshadow the positive work hospitals do, it is essential for healthcare foundations to proactively manage their reputation. This issue was top of mind at a recent meeting of the AHP Board, where we discussed the biggest issues eroding public trust in our institutions, and how we can best respond.
Here are a few of our recommendations to showcase the countless benefits our organizations are providing to donors and the community to mitigate the damage of negative press.
Create Key Messages: Write out messages and proof points that can be woven into any conversation about the role nonprofit hospital systems play in making life-changing healthcare possible. Our Key Messages and Proof Points Toolkit, which outlines the benefits provided by hospitals and healthcare philanthropy, is a great starting point.
Communicate Transparently: Openly addressing concerns, sharing accurate information, and acknowledging mistakes can help rebuild trust. Promptly responding to media inquiries and sharing positive stories that highlight the hospital's impact can counterbalance negative narratives.
Engage with the Community: Actively engaging with the community through partnerships with local organizations fosters a positive image and reinforces the hospital's dedication to community well-being.
Highlight Success Stories: Sharing success stories, innovative treatments, and positive patient outcomes through various media channels can showcase the hospital's accomplishments and counter negative narratives.
Invest in Donor Cultivation: It’s our bread and butter for a reason. Establishing strong relationships with donors based on transparency, stewardship, and effective communication is one of the most effective ways to instill confidence in the hospital's ability to leverage donations for maximum impact.
By transparently addressing concerns, prioritizing patient experience, engaging with the community, and sharing success stories, hospitals can mitigate the damage caused by negative press. Through these efforts, we can build a resilient foundation of public support, ensuring the ability to deliver high-quality care, advance medical research, and make a positive impact on the communities we serve.