Almost time for some colorful leaves, crisp apples and pumpkins!

September. Whenever I hear that month, I start humming and breaking out the lyrics of the Earth Wind & Fire song by that name. (What do you think I’m doing now?!) It’s now September – I can’t believe summer is coming to a close! Fall is an exciting time of year. The air is crisp, the leaves and trees are full of color, and the humidity is almost in check. Memories of jumping in leaf piles, shopping for new school supplies, meeting friends, and learning about Johnny Appleseed in grade school can’t be forgotten. The title of this post says it all!

So, what have I been up to this summer? I’ve had a busy and rewarding summer, working three jobs and continuing to volunteer at a local hospital. My internship with a local City has been a great experience and has piqued my interest in local government and citizen/resident relations. The City will be getting a new website soon, and it’s been my task to help prepare for that transition by working with all of the departments to generate new and exciting ideas for content, while improving what is currently posted. I’ve had a fantastic experience working with the Police and Fire departments to update their pages and feature a community services and programs section. I think public safety departments are a great resource for citizens, and there are countless ways that community partnerships can be developed and furthered that can help promote safety and well-being as a result. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with these departments and can even further appreciate what these dedicated men and women do on a daily basis to serve and protect their community. It’s been a great experience that has really helped me develop more project management skills that will in turn benefit my future career.

I also did some freelance work for a former employer (and my alma mater! Once a Saint, Always a Saint!) this summer, interviewing and writing short features on new faculty members for their brand new blog/news initiative. That’s been very interesting, learning about the faculty members’ inspiration for teaching and finding out more about their expertise areas.

My volunteer experience in graphic design has really been rewarding, and I can’t thank enough the mentors I work with, for providing me guidance with projects but also being a listening ear, helping me work toward finding a career. I’m always envious of graphic designers and their skills, as they seem to know all the cool tricks and editing techniques.

I hope to stay in tune with this blog, and continue to work on furthering my portfolio development as the Fall grows closer. I can’t wait to jump start my career, and hope a new beginning during the Fall season will bring memories to come!

Lifetime of Learning Results in Milestone Achievements

One of the proudest moments of my life: receiving my Master's degree in May 2015.

One of the proudest moments of my life: receiving my Master’s degree in May 2015.

At the age of 26, I can say that I’ve achieved milestones. I’ve spent my life learning and advancing my personal and professional development and have graduated with two post-high school degrees. Success is sure sweet, and I know there is still more to learn.

The BA in Communication graduates in the May 2013 Commencement at Maryville University.

The BA in Communication graduates in the May 2013 Commencement at Maryville University.

In May of 2013, I graduated with my Bachelor’s from Maryville University with concentrations in Strategic Communication and Journalism. I had enjoyed participating in the student newspaper as a staff writer and had held several internships during this time period that oriented me to working in a professional environment to further communication goals. This was not my first major at Maryville. I began in the art program and later worked toward an education degree. It was after I realized my passion for writing and art that I decided to pursue a degree in Communication, which I felt would be a great way to fuse my interests together.

After graduation, I literally began pursuit of my Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership a few days later, to further enhance my leadership skills so that I can aspire to lead others one day. The second year of my program, I had the opportunity to be a graduate assistant in Maryville’s marketing department. I got to do really cool projects such as contribute to the Maryville Magazine and design signage for the St. Louis Speakers Series. I loved interviewing faculty, staff and students to continue to share the Maryville story.

Graduates of the MA in Strategic Communication and Leadership, May 2015.

Graduates of the MA in Strategic Communication and Leadership, May 2015.

In March of 2015, I took the comprehensive written exam for the Master’s capstone. It was the toughest and most enriching experience I have done to this date, and I would not trade the feeling of the weight being lifted off my shoulders after finding out I had passed. I was ready to walk across the stage with my diploma. That happened on May 2, 2015.

This will not be the end of learning for me. I have a lifetime ahead of me to make an impact. It’s now time to make that dream a reality.

How to Improve Health Literacy

Today, it seems as if everyone is paying closer attention to health. The passing of the Affordable Care Act and the prevalence of attention to preventive care services and the treatment of public health epidemics such as obesity, influenza, and other chronic conditions, have made everyone much more concerned about their health than in the past. Hospitals across the area are participating in Community Health Needs Assessments and working to help achieve the objectives of the Healthy People 2020 goals.

In addition to the need to help make people want to live healthier lifestyles, there is also the need to help them understand just how important it is for them to make this change. Besides getting people to make healthy decisions, it is important we educate them about how to stay healthy; this can include treatment plans such as discharge instructions from hospitalizations as well as prescription medication directions. Because health is a complicated topic, and includes a great amount of jargon that the general population would likely not be able to understand, and is therefore a barrier to this notion of the importance of health education.

An article in American Family Physician (2005) reminds us of the term known as health literacy, which is the basic reading and numerical skills needed to understand health information and function in the healthcare environment (Safer & Keenan, 2005). The ability of the general population to understand health information is something that definitely needs to be addressed, as “most adults read at an eighth-grade level, and 20 percent of the population reads at or below a fifth-grade level” and “most health care materials are written at a 10th-grade level” (Safer & Keenan, 2005). Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have some form of difficulty using and understanding the health information that is readily available at healthcare facilities, retail outlets, and in the media (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2014). Limited health literacy has several problems including decreased ability to understand the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle, seeking and using health information, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and acting on public health alerts (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2014). It is associated with poorer health outcomes and higher costs of healthcare (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2014).

If hospitals and other health organizations want to improve health literacy, they need to collaborate to develop a series of goals to ensure all information is accessible to all audiences. The Centers for Disease Control (2011) outlines guidelines called The Three A’s to align the development of information to aid health literacy, and stress all health information should be:

  • Accurate – ensure the information is accurate and is presented in ways that all people can understand, and not “dumbed-down” as to distort the science
  • Accessible – assess the presentation of the material, and ensure it is in a reasonable font size, is in bullet points and sub-heads where appropriate, and in the appropriate channel of communication delivery
  • Actionable – make sure the information calls people to act desirably the way you want them to change for the betterment of their health, not just tell them to stop a certain behavior or start a new treatment plan

iTRiage Health (2013) outlines eight ways hospitals and health organizations can improve health literacy:

  1. Train staff
  2. Use plain language
  3. Review key information
  4. Simplify signage and instructions
  5. State the recommended action clearly
  6. Pay attention to your website
  7. Promote community resources
  8. Provide technology that facilitates communication

As patients and the general population will see the greater need to improve their health as new discoveries about diseases and treatment options are made, the importance of having a basic understanding of health information is vital to improving the health of the world’s population. By understanding the Three A’s and knowing the ways health literacy can be improved, hospitals can better reach out to patients and the community and empower them to make healthy decisions for a better future.

 

Sources:

http://www.health.gov/communication/literacy/

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0801/p463.html

http://about.itriagehealth.com/consumer-patient-engagement/8-ways-organization-improve-health-literacy/

http://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/

Internal Communications Ideas for Hospitals

According to Sprague and Del Brocco, “internal communications encompass every interchange between human beings within an organization and may be the single most influential factor in your organization’s success or failure” (Moss & DeSanto, 2012).

Some of the internal communications problem areas include a severe lack of internal communications between managers and non-managers; a feeling of lack of respect and value from non-managers to managers, and likewise from managers to non-managers; and a critically low level of employee morale across all levels of employee hierarchy, including both managers and non-managers (Moss & DeSanto, 2012). Low morale can contribute to high turnover, customer dissatisfaction, and low employee performance. All of these factors contribute to negative feelings employees may portray toward customers and to peers who may look for employment with the organization.

As a way to enhance communication internally, hospitals should focus on establishing a secure portal for employees to access for work-related communication. This portal, also called an Intranet, would include a number of communication tactics, such as: a monthly newsletter, a messaging feature, daily news announcements, meeting notes, and event listing. Monthly newsletters also serve a great function of showcasing employee achievements such as exceptional patient care stories, hospital quality achievements, personal employee goal achievements such as weight loss and/or fitness, and other hospital events. Most often, communication is in a friendly, more informal style that is easily read and understood by all levels and types of employees.

Employee meetings are another way to help enhance internal communication. Meetings between executive and mid-level employees and entry level employees should take place periodically and should serve the purpose of introducing employees and facilitating communication between employees of all levels. The primary goal of meetings is to ensure communication is taking place at all levels instead of just from the top-down.

When it comes to employee motivation, what better way is there to motivate employees to do their best work than recognizing their efforts? This can be done by giving employees awards incentives such as for performance or customer service, but also awards for years of service. Awards can be given in person at meetings or employee banquets and can also be listed in the employee newsletter. It’s important to recognize all levels of employees and types of employees at hospitals, whether it is the nursing staff, medical staff, allied health personnel, or supportive personnel, because all of the personnel work together to further the hospital’s mission to deliver exceptional care.

Employee events are another idea to increase employee morale. These can include fun events surrounding benefits registration, holidays, service projects, annual employee banquets, among other types. It is the goal of internal communication to increase employee morale with the benefits of improved employee performance, increased customer satisfaction, and better business stimulators. Each of these components are shown at hospitals in the form of exceptional patient care, patient gratitude and donations, and more patients seeking treatment at the hospital because of its growing reputation. If not for solid internal communication, those mentioned components would not be possible.

Social Media Ideas for Hospitals

In an age where digital media has come to be front and center, many organizations have focused their communication activities toward more two-way, digital methods. As the marketplace turns more competitive by the day, organizations are doing anything and everything to project their company’s image as one of a leader to help encourage consumerism and profit increases. One digital media strategy that organizations use is social media. Social media has become one of the most effective and versatile platforms that organizations use to communicate with their publics.

Healthcare is becoming one of the most competitive industries in the market today. Hospitals are becoming increasingly competitive and are brainstorming new ways to connect with patients and gain potential business in light of new health care standards for care. An article in Ragan’s Health Care Communication News (2013) agrees, stating “it’s a whole new world of technology, communications, promotions and mobile networking. Those hospitals that have discovered this fact and are diving in are way out in front. They’re getting recognition for their brand, pulling in more patients through referrals and networking, and connecting with their communities” (Diamond, 2013). By creating accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other applicable social media sites, hospitals are establishing a presence that is likely to help draw in consumers and connect the hospital with the community.

When a hospital decides to implement social media strategies to better promote their brand, the hospital should consider developing a social media plan. Becker’s Hospital Review (2011) states “a plan aligns a hospital’s resources, brand, goals, metrics and other key elements to form a cohesive marketing and communication strategy. Without a plan, most social media efforts are more prone to fail” (Gamble, 2011).  Gamble (2011) lists tips for a plan that include assessing readiness, experimentation, starting small and slow, creation of dialogue, and monitoring analytics.

What are some creative ways that hospitals can utilize social media to better connect with their patients and the community while promoting their services? Ragan’s Health Care Communication News (2013) listed several thought-provoking and creative ways that hospitals can engage with their publics on social media. One innovative idea on that lists includes developing a mobile app to better connect the public with emergency rooms. At Massachusetts General Hospital, “…a talented group of researchers from the Emergency Department created a free app for the iPhone that lets users find the closest emergency room to their location anywhere in the United States” (Diamond, 2013). A YouTube video was created about the app and was pitched to bloggers. St. Louis Children’s Hospital also has created a mobile app called Kid Care, that “is designed to help parents make smart decisions on what level of care, if any, is needed and how to provide speedy symptom relief for minor illnesses or injuries” (St. Louis Children’s Hospital).

In addition to apps, hospitals can also share updates about the hospital and health tips. Ragan’s Health Communication News (2013) discusses how “the Children’s Hospital of Alabama corporate communications department developed a social media strategy using Facebook and Twitter, targeting both internal and external audiences. The hospital shares health tips and statistics on a daily basis, getting the community involved with its Health and Wellness campaign. A key messaging tool is past patient testimonials” (Diamond, 2013). Past patient testimonials, much like “recommendations” on sites such as Yelp! and Google, are a way that hospitals can showcase their high standards of care, from the perspective of a satisfied customer, in this case, previous patients. While having positive patient testimonials could be an asset to brand promotion for a hospital, hospitals must also be aware of the concerns of patients’ utilization of social media. Bob Hermann (2011) states in an article on Becker’s Hospital Review, that “while some patients could portray the hospital in a good light with positive experiences they encountered, there could just as easily be disparaging remarks or comments and news that reflect negatively toward the hospital,” (Hermann, 2011).

Another idea for hospitals to utilize social media while promoting services is to partner with sports figures. The Inova Healthcare System started a Facebook page called “FIT FOR 50” that includes specific challenges.  Ragan’s Health Communication News (2013) states “FIT FOR SUMMER, for example, is an interactive page with former NFL Washington Redskins player, Darrell Green. This web-based fitness program is designed to keep people fit during the hot days of summer. Friends of the page are encouraged to register to gain access to exclusive health and fitness videos from Darrell Green and Inova physicians. Also, people can set their own personal wellness goals and track their daily progress in their very own online playbook” (Diamond, 2013). Designating a sports figure and one that is a role model in the community is an excellent idea for a hospital to utilize a local, well-known figure in support of pioneering efforts for health awareness and motivation.

Hospitals should not only be concerned about the types of content they post but should also develop a social media policy. This policy should be set in place to help guide employees to make wise choices about utilizing social media. A few tips for developing a social media policy listed in an article on Health Leaders Media (2010) include keeping the policy short, simple, encouraging, educational, and transparent. Another concern should be protecting patient privacy. With any new marketing effort, all pros and cons, including concerns, should be laid out and discussed fully before beginning any tactics.

References:

Becker’s Hospital Review (2011)

http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/how-social-media-is-both-friend-and-foe-to-healthcare-providers.html

http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/5-basics-for-any-hospital-social-media-plan.html

Health Leaders Media (2010)

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/page-2/tec-250829/Five-Tips-to-Guide-Your-Hospitals-Social-Media-Policy

Ragan’s Health Communication News (2013)

http://healthcarecommunication.com/Main/Articles/10_dazzling_social_media_promotional_ideas_for_you_8287.aspx

St. Louis Children’s Hospital

http://www.stlouischildrens.org/media-center/social-media

Tips to Help Journalists Understand HIPAA

Introduction to HIPAA to Educate Media Professionals

Almost every day on the news we hear of tragic occurrences such as a motor vehicle accident, fire, or other disaster that prompts individuals to seek treatment at area hospitals. These instances often cause crime and public safety reporters seeking information about victims of these accidents that seek treatment at area hospitals. Common hospital media release policies, as developed by executives of the American Hospital Association and enforced by hospital administrators and media relations personnel, include policies that limit the release of patient condition and other identifiable information to the news media. More about these policies will be discussed below.

What is HIPAA?

According to the Department of Health & Human Services, HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This law protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information that is held by covered business entities and associates, as it gives patients the right to have their information private and respected. Individually identifiable health information is defined as any health-related information, in addition to demographic information, that relates to the individual’s past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition, the provision of health care to the individual, or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual; and that identifies the individual or for which there is a reasonable basis to believe that it can be used to identify the individual (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2003). This individually identifiable health information includes common demographic identifiers including name, address, birth date, and Social Security Number (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2003).

This information is protected by the HIPAA law that safeguards its privacy, integrity, and availability as it is disclosed for patient care.

Covered Entities

Covered entities include health care providers, health plans, and a health care clearinghouse. Health care providers include doctors, nurses, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, pharmacies, and nursing homes; “if they transmit any information in an electronic form in connection with a transaction for which HHS has adopted a standard” (Department of Health & Human Services, 2003). Health plans include insurance companies, company health plans, and any government programs that fund health care such as Medicaid, Medicare, and military/veterans health care programs. A health care clearinghouse is an entity that processes “…nonstandard health information they receive from another entity into a standard (i.e., standard electronic format or data content), or vice versa” (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2003).

Common Hospital Media Release Policies

As stated by the California Healthcare Association (2003), “releasing information on the condition of hospital patients to the news media requires a careful balancing of patient privacy with the media’s desire for information” (2003). Although it is the job of the reporter to seek relevant information about people who are in the news, knowledge of the laws and regulations of the safeguard of privacy information that may identify an individual in terms of their health care and safety should be thoughtfully considered and understood by members of the news media in relation to individuals who may be under care at area hospitals. It is the job of hospitals to protect the privacy of information related to the health and medical conditions of its patients.

The California Healthcare Association (2003) lists the following general guidelines related to the release of patient information to the news media:

  • “Under HIPAA, information about the condition and location of a patient may be released only if the inquiry specifically contains the patient’s name. No information can be given out if a request does not include the patient’s name” (California Healthcare Association, 2003).
  • “If the patient has not requested that information be withheld, and the request for information contains the patient’s name, hospitals generally may release the patient’s condition and location within the hospital. However, hospitals must use discretion in releasing a patient’s location; at no time may a hospital disclose a patient’s location in a psychiatric or substance abuse unit” (California Healthcare Association, 2003).

Hospitals are permitted under HIPAA to use the following one-word descriptions of patient conditions when disclosing information to the news media. These guidelines are suggested by the American Hospital Association.

  • Undetermined — Patient awaiting physician assessment.
  • Good — Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.
  • Fair — Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.
  • Serious — Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.
  • Critical — Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.
  • Treated and Released — received treatment but not admitted

Source: Kansas City Healthcare Communicators Society, Greater Kansas City Health Council, the Missouri Association for Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing and the Kansas Hospital Association, 2002.

Because this is a patient’s personal health information, it is important that the privacy and rights of the patient be respected. A patient is always given the opportunity to object to the inclusion of their name and condition in the hospital’s directory. Hospital and media personnel must respect and follow the patient’s choices in these instances.

Tips for Media Relations Professionals to Educate Journalists about HIPAA

It is important to understand as journalists the laws and regulations surrounding health information as it relates to patient conditions and understand what constitutes personally identifiable health information. Hospital media relations professionals have the task to enforce HIPAA regulations to journalists while still maintaining good relations with the media. Journalists may or may not have little or any background knowledge about HIPAA, and may not understand the full extent of the laws. The following are three tips I have suggested for media relations professionals to educate journalists to better understand HIPAA.

  1. Understand that journalists and media members may have little knowledge of HIPAA. Host information sessions to educate journalists about HIPAA, which include defining what HIPAA is and explaining why there are standards in place to limit the transmission of patient information.
  2. Create a media release policy and post it on the “news and media” information section of the hospital website, near the contact information of the media relations professional, so that journalists will be able to see the hospital and HIPAA policies before contacting the hospital. This can help provide a springboard to answer questions before contacting the hospital to prevent frustration on the part of the journalist.
  3. Create training videos for the media about HIPAA that include simulations of journalists contacting hospital media relations professionals about a patient’s condition. The dialogue would show the journalist what he or she can expect when contacting a hospital to find out the condition of a patient. Since journalists may or may not have time to read an entire policy, video clips can help a busy journalist learn more about HIPAA regulations that can be accessed by journalists multiple times.

References:

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:

http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/

California Healthcare Association:

http://healthsciences.ucsd.edu/compliance/privacy/Documents/CHA-Media-Guide_to_Release_booklet-0409.pdf

Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning. Those two words are probably what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. Okay, well, not entirely; but it is a large part of what Communication, public relations, and marketing encompass. 

One of my courses, Strategic Communication Research and Strategy, has a strategic plan/campaign assignment requirement. We were given three prompts in class to choose from to form our campaign. These prompts were 1) increase the image of St. Louis City to travelers; 2) increase the image of St. Louis City to West County residents; and 3) create a membership program for Busch Stadium. All of these prompts are current issues being dealt by the City, and it is our task to develop a creative campaign to address the issue. 

I am doing the first two prompts. Currently I’m working on the first prompt. My plan for the first prompt to increase the image of St. Louis to travelers is to develop a campaign to lure travelers of the young professionals age category to St. Louis by promoting St. Louis’ thriving music scene. I plan to “partner” with one of St. Louis’ fine music venues and host a kick-off event and a series of other events with a multi-media awareness campaign to accomplish my objective.