Reputation Management for Healthcare Facilities

The world is more connected now than it has ever been before — social media platforms have provided an outlet for near-instant communication around the world, and due to this fact, reputations can quickly be tanked. Healthcare facilities, whether massive hospitals or smaller care facilities, need to stay on top of their game when it comes to managing their reputations through public relations, particularly when considering the sensitive information they are trusted to safeguard.

Inclusivity in Care

It has never been more apparent than it is today that the healthcare industry needs to focus on becoming more inclusive. As more data becomes available demonstrating the cultural and demographic shift the US is feeling, healthcare officials are discovering that there is a serious issue with who is receiving what levels of care, often due to something as seemingly insignificant as a zip code. For example, there is a huge disparity in the readmission rates between African American and Caucasian patients, and their access to preventative healthcare remains alarmingly different from one another.


In order to combat this difference in access to care, hospitals have started to look towards transcultural nursing in order to help bridge the divide. Transcultural nursing focuses on bringing care to communities where healthcare literacy is low, or where cultural barriers prevent residents from receiving the appropriate care. Language barriers in particular, which have often prevented diverse communities from access to healthcare, can also be overcome with transcultural nursing — which is especially important, considering how in 2016, more than 20% of Americans spoke a language other than English at home.


While making these changes to be more inclusive is certainly good PR for the healthcare industry as a whole, the decision to make them should stem from a moral and ethical stance, rather than only one based on reputation — otherwise these efforts to change for the better might come across as insincere and pandering. Good reputations and PR are fine, but ensuring that all members of a community have the same access to quality healthcare should be a major priority for any healthcare professional. To know about these gaps in coverage and still refuse to do as much as possible to remedy them would be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, particularly the overall sentiment of “do no harm.”

Remaining Ethical

Unfortunately, ethical dilemmas are not in short supply for healthcare administrators. These administrators are expected to keep a hospital fiscally viable, avoid all potential lawsuits, and remain unbiased when dealing with influential relationships, all while remaining ethical. This balancing act can pose a serious challenge, particularly in a new world where social media and data security are aspects of daily life to keep tabs on.


Remaining HIPAA compliant in this new digital and social media-driven society can be less than secure, especially when it comes to keeping patient data and records safe and out of dangerous hands — sometimes, those hands belonging a member of an administrator’s own team. In 2018, for example, a Texas nurse was fired for violating HIPAA regulations on social media by providing enough information about a patient that they were easily identifiable, showing that it’s not necessarily expert hackers or black-market information dealers that can let private information slip into the mainstream.


While HIPAA violations can happen without any ill intent, especially when social media gets involved, there are more alarming trends cropping up. To be specific, actual patient bias on the part of a physician can be a potentially far more troublesome ethical issue — potentially even a deadly one.


Many doctors experience bias in many different ways, and not always from religious or political affiliation. Instead, they might feel biased towards certain treatments and medications that will be more profitable for them individually, whether or not that specific treatment is the right choice for the patient they’re treating. In a world where patients worry whether or not their doctor is acting in their best interest or appealing to the pharmaceutical companies paying them instead, it makes sense that there’s a widespread concern surrounding the issue of physician bias. Fortunately, the issue of bias is being tackled by what might seem like an unlikely source:


AI is being actively implemented throughout the healthcare industry in an effort to erase the possibility of bias on the part of a physician, making overall diagnosis and treatment inherently more objective, and therefore more ethical. However, the AI being used is potentially a double-edged sword, as in order to effectively operate they need access to mountains of patient data, furthering the risk of an inadvertent HIPAA violation or data loss through a breach.


With such evident concerns from patients revolving around physician bias and potential breach of personal and private medical records, a single slip-up, breach, or lawsuit can tank a private practice overnight. The moment word spreads that an administration can’t be trusted to keep information private or prescribe medications and treatment in an unbiased manner, it is going to take massive steps to turn that public opinion back around and regain the trust of the people affected. Even if the public opinion doesn’t necessarily turn, there are other potential business-uprooting consequences — take, for example, when one dermatology practice was careless with patient data and paid the price:


“In one HIPAA violation case, a dermatology practice lost an unencrypted flash drive that contained protected health information. The group was fined $150,000 and was required to install a corrective action plan.”


Paying the dues of a mistake are an unfortunate truth behind running any kind of business that caters to the public, whether it be in the healthcare sector or another. It’s exactly the same reason many small businesses take care to invest in liability insurance, as business owners can never truly anticipate what each day will bring. Especially in a sector as private and nuanced as healthcare, the same is particulary true.


Being Truthful

When not focused on maintaining or rebuilding a scarred reputation, the overarching marketing of healthcare can often be another ethically treacherous field. Of course, from a business standpoint, any company will want to put their best foot forward and promise as much as possible — however, this can lead to dangerous results for hospitals and clinics. Overpromising results and making false claims is not only ethically wrong, but can lead to serious legal issues.


Take the popular herbal supplement Airborne, for example. While not a private medical practice, they were (and still are) a big name in the healthcare field, at least when it comes to over the counter supplements. “Marketing of the product claimed that it helped ward off harmful bacteria and germs, preventing everyday ailments like the flu and common cold. There were no studies to support Airborne's effectiveness claims that met scientific standards — so the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) got involved. The high-profile scandal ended with a huge settlement, with Airborne having to pay $23.3 million in the class-action lawsuit, and an additional $7 million settlement later, according to NPR.”


Unfortunately, many hospitals, assisted living centers, and nursing homes are also not above making misleading claims in order to further their financial gains. These facilities are guilty of extolling how amazing their healthcare services are and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so, when in reality they are understaffed and the CNAs who are providing the bulk of the health services are often severely overworked and underpaid. What’s more, hospitals and nursing homes spent $67 million dollars in 2013 alone on lobbying politicians. This obsession with cultivating a positive reputation at the expense of quality healthcare is, at its core, against everything that healthcare should be about.


Telling the truth in a healthcare setting isn’t just about maintaining a well-earned positive reputation, but also respecting a patient’s ability to make decisions. When healthcare providers withhold information from patients, they are heading down a slippery slope wherein a patient’s autonomy might be put at risk, while at the same time risking their reputation as a hospital, a private practice, or an individual doctor that might never be recovered again. At the end of the day, a healthcare provider’s reputation should be earned through their actions, and not through manipulation of the truth, whether before or after a scandal comes to light.


Any business’s reputation is one of the most valuable things they have at their disposal. While it is ultimately important to preserve and cultivate a positive reputation, it must be done so ethically, especially in the healthcare field. Inclusivity, ethical marketing, and an unwavering commitment to truth will do more for a healthcare facility’s reputation than any amount of money spent.