In recent months the media has had an insatiable appetite for news about the H1N1 virus. And while news reports may have reminded people to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough, they’ve also spread enough misinformation to prompt thousands of unnecessary ED visits. During an epidemic threat, emergency physicians have an opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to work with the media in a productive way. Here are a few places to start.
1) Take every opportunity to work with the local media on health care stories. To the best of your ability, have them come to your ED for stories on heat illnesses, fireworks injuries, lightning and storm dangers, mosquito-borne illnesses, heart attacks and strokes. Build bridges with your hospital communication staff and the local members of the media.
2) Conduct a press conference and develop a template for media events and public service announcements that relate to hospital emergency care.
3) Work with public health agencies in your area on any messages that relate to emergency care, and allow them to use the ED as a backdrop for any media releases they want to do on general community health issues.
4) Access and utilize CDC documents and releases.
5)Develop a reputation for helping the local media get the correct and accurate details on health stories. Infection control stories are very complex, and require the best communicators to convey a clear message to the community. Develop the releases and the speakers that can do that, and make sure their message is consistent with releases from the CDC and state/local health agencies.
6) Plan ahead and develop messages that allow the community (and your ED staff) to understand you are ahead of the planning curve.
7) In communities with multiple EDs, work collaboratively with other ED leaders to develop an infection control response that is timely, effective, and consistent. When the next case of food poisoning, meningococcus, or Tb generates media interest, have all the ED leaders release consistent statements (or appear at a joint press conference) about how each is applying the same management principles, and sharing info between the EDs.
8) For the ED leader, the lessons can be clear. Take advantage of media interest in health topics to build the health care and community relationships needed to manage big and small emergency care issues.