8 Best Practices for Managing a Hospital's Reputation

In today's competitive healthcare environment, a hospital's reputation is critical in attracting physicians, patients and potential partnering organizations. Hospitals build their reputations through a variety of means, including word of mouth, awards and accreditations. After working hard to build a strong reputation, however, hospitals need to implement strategies to maintain and protect this reputation.  "A strong reputation is particularly important for hospitals, which must constantly balance doing what is right and necessary to grow its 'business,' [with] fulfilling an implicit mission of community service," says Kim Fox, vice president of Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock. Ms. Fox shares eight best practices for managing a hospital's reputation.

1. Assess your image. "You need to know how the community perceives you," Ms. Fox says. Hospitals can survey the community and physicians to determine how they are perceived and then take steps to improve areas of weakness.

2. Give reputation management the attention it deserves. "Put as much emphasis on reputation management as you would on directing your most profitable service line," Ms. Fox says. Hospitals need to devote the resources necessary to constantly build and maintain a positive reputation.

3. Arm your employees. Hospitals should teach employees the messages they want delivered to consumers. Employees' passion for their hospital makes them ideal for communicating and spreading a positive reputation for the organization, according to Ms. Fox.

4. Build meaningful relationships. Hospitals should develop relationships with key stakeholders, including physicians, board members, community leaders and elected officials. "How you build, maintain and use these relationships is fundamentally important to having the reputation you want when it matters," Ms. Fox says.

5. Tell your story. Hospitals should constantly tell their story to stakeholders both in and outside the hospital to create a lasting impression on patients, physicians and the community at large.

6. Engage in online dialogue.
"Gone are the days of you controlling all of the conversations about your hospital," Ms. Fox says. "Social media has seen to that. Make sure you are part of the online dialogue that's already happening about you."

7. Leverage marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising initiatives support a hospital's reputation. A consistent brand and message is important for establishing a well-known, positive presence in the community.

8. Be ready for a crisis. "It takes years to build a reputation, and seconds to destroy it," Ms. Fox says. Hospitals need to be prepared for crises and develop protocols for reacting to crisis situations, such as a data breach or infection outbreak. Timely, transparent communication about the incident and actions to prevent a future incident can demonstrate a hospital's dedication to the community. "Handled well, a crisis provides an opportunity to show your true colors," Ms. Fox says.

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