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

Proactive communication remains paramount during COVID-19 pandemic

Image of Two military personnel with mask on talking, while one is writing on a notepad. Click to open a larger version of the image. 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:

MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

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...

Pandemic Spotlights the Vital Role of Military Lab Workers

Article
5/2/2022
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Solomon, 18th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of microbiology, unloads blood samples from a centrifuge at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Jan. 31, 2019. (Photo: Tech. Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks, U.S. Air Force)

MHS clinical labs produce results.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

Helping Your Child to Cope with Grief and Losses Related to COVID-19

Article
4/28/2022
Shirley Lanham Elementary School students perform Taiko drumming during a Month of the Military Child celebration aboard the Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, April 6, 2022. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Ange-Olivier Clement, Naval Air Facility Atsugi)

Many military children have lost loved ones to COVID-19. How parents can help with the grief.

Recommended Content:

Month of the Military Child - Celebrating Military Kids | Children's Health | Psychological Fitness | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

How to Help Military Children Reconnect After Two Years of the Pandemic

Article
4/25/2022
Airman 1st Class Rocio Romo, Space Launch Delta 30 public affairs specialist, and her son pose for a photo at Cocheo Park on Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, March 25, 2022. During the month of April, we celebrate Month of the Military Child to highlight the sacrifices military children make on the home front while their parents serve the United States. (Photo: Airman Kadielle Shaw, Space Launch Delta 30 Public Affairs)

How parents can help children stressed by more than two years of COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Month of the Military Child - Celebrating Military Kids | Children's Health | Psychological Fitness | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Graphic 2

Infographic
4/21/2022
COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Graphic 2

If your military hospital or clinic offers these antiviral treatments as part of the COVID-19 Test to Treat Initiative, use these graphics to promote your services to your beneficiaries.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Treatment

COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Main Graphic

Infographic
4/21/2022
COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Main Graphic

If your military hospital or clinic offers these antiviral treatments as part of the COVID-19 Test to Treat Initiative, use these graphics to promote your services to your beneficiaries.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Treatment

COVID-19 Booster Effectiveness Remained High During Omicron Surge

Article
4/18/2022
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Mary Ashcraft, assigned to the combat ship USS Tulsa, administers a COVID-19 vaccine booster to Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class Anthony Johnson Jan. 10, 2022, at Apra Harbor, Guam. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Petty Officer 1st Class Devin M. Langer, Command Destroyer Squadron 7)

Two new studies of active-duty service members show COVID-19 booster vaccines are effective, but uptake rates in the military community lagged behind the civilian population.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Got Your 6 | April 16, 2022

Video
4/15/2022
Got Your 6 | April 16, 2022

‘Got Your 6’ is TRICARE’s COVID vaccine video series that delivers important information and updates, on days that end in ‘6.’ It includes the latest information about DOD vaccine distribution, the TRICARE health benefit, and vaccine availability. Got a question about ‘Got Your 6’? Send an email to dha.ncr.comm.mbx.dha-internal-communications@mail.mil Find your local military provider at tricare.mil/MTF, or go to tricare.mil/vaccineappointments and schedule yours today!

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

8 Tips to Help Kids Adjust to Change during the New Pandemic Phase

Article
4/15/2022
A parent comforts his child while she receives a pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Jan. 28, 2022. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte, 18th Wing Public Affairs)

Parents should prepare their kids for the new normal of the ongoing pandemic, recognizing that the status of the disease can change quickly as new variants of COVID-19 emerge.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus | Children's Health

How COVID-19 Made the Military Medical Community Stronger

Article
3/21/2022
Image of a service member being treated

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic has made the military medical community stronger and will help when confronting the next crisis, whether that’s another pandemic, a new conflict or natural disaster

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Responses Underscore Importance of Patient Safety

Article
3/14/2022
Every day, patient safety is one of the top priorities for the Defense Health Agency. Patient safety means providing ready, reliable care to service members, veterans, and dependents no matter the circumstances. (Photo: Defense Health Agency)

Patient safety is a topmost concern of MHS, and Patient Safety Awareness Week 2022 focuses on Ready, Reliable Care.

Recommended Content:

Patient Safety | Patient Safety Awareness Week | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus | Patient Safety Awareness Week

Answering Your Questions About COVID-19 Testing

Article
2/25/2022
Military personnel performing a COVID-19 Test

COVID-19 continues to spread, now as the Omicron variant. Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect you and your family from getting seriously ill, getting hospitalized, or dying. You should also make sure you’re up to date with your vaccines. Testing is another important step you can take to protect yourself and others.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus | At-Home COVID-19 Tests

Defense Department Announces Distribution of COVID-19 Tests for Military Beneficiaries

Article
2/25/2022
A Soldier assigned to the Connecticut National Guard helps load a shipment of at-home COVID-19 testing kits into a truck at a regional distribution point in North Haven, Connecticut, Jan. 3, 2022. These kits were picked up by representatives from local towns and municipalities to be handed out to their communities.

The Department of Defense will offer at-home COVID-19 tests for military beneficiaries at military hospitals or clinics, on a supply available basis, in the coming weeks.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | At-Home COVID-19 Tests | Coronavirus

Does CSM Gragg Have COVID-19?

Video
2/9/2022
Does CSM Gragg Have COVID-19?

CSM Gragg demonstrates how to use a COVID-19 at home rapid test.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | At-Home COVID-19 Tests | Coronavirus

Preteens Teens Can Get Boosted Too

Infographic
2/3/2022
Preteens Teens Can Get Boosted Too

Preteens and Teens can get boosted, too! The CDC recommends a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for preteens/teens ages 12 and older, 5 months after their second shot.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Vaccines for Children

VaxFacts: Should I get a booster?

Infographic
2/3/2022
VaxFacts: Should I get a booster?

Should I get a COVID-19 Booster Shot?

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vax Facts
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 27

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.