Ebola and the Breakdown of Internal Communication

By: Gina Mason

The glaring and most obvious discrepancy of the Ebola outbreak in Dallas has been the lack of internal communication on all levels. Stemming from the top, it is clear that the CDC did not effectively communicate or prepare hospitals and medical workers well enough (or at all) to handle a potential patient with Ebola in the United States. This misstep resulted in a trickledown effect through our healthcare system and is an example of why communication is vital in times of crisis.

There has been a myriad of communication issues through this entire situation from not communicating the severity of the disease to changing the protocols daily. However, the biggest and most important communication breakdown of the whole situation was the handling of “patient zero” Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan went to the hospital displaying Ebola-like symptoms on September 26th and was sent home only to return two days later and be diagnosed with Ebola. This was a crucial communication mistake and one that may have changed the likelihood of Duncan’s survival and also the nurses who have now been infected with the disease. According to a Modern Healthcare article, “Texas Health initially said staff miscommunication was responsible for doctors not knowing the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, had recently been in Liberia, a hot spot of the current Ebola outbreak in Western Africa.”

When examining the situation from an internal communications standpoint, we cannot blame this incident solely on the worker who sent Duncan home when he was exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms. We have to look at the bigger picture and see why he or she was not informed/alerted about the Ebola risk and why hospitals did not have the proper training and equipment stocked in case a potential patient came in. After all, we have known for months that Ebola was rampant in several African countries and there was good possibility that it could come to the U.S. It appears as though, the CDC did not communicate the risk and prepare hospitals for an evitable outbreak, which left hospitals, their employees and patients vulnerable and unprepared.
No matter the crisis or company, it is vital to have a system in place and always be prepared to handle any situation that may arise. Not only is it important to be prepared to handle the media and public, but also to be able to efficiently and effectively communicate with all parties involved with the crisis internally. Being prepared prior to a crisis, addressing any dynamic changes in the situation quickly, having a unified communications system in place and constantly communicating with the employees is the best way to handle a crisis internally. Preparation is key and usually is the biggest oversight when it comes to crisis communication.

It will be interesting to see what some of the internal investigations reveal in regard to how Texas Presbyterian Hospital and the CDC actually handled the outbreak and protocols prior to Duncan coming into the hospital. Also, I think this glaring communications oversight will completely revamp our healthcare system’s communication process when it comes to dealing with deadly diseases and disasters. Hopefully this negative situation will result in a positive outcome and will make our healthcare system more prepared for scenarios like this in the future.

How do you think this is going to affect out healthcare system’s communication efforts?
As always, I welcome your comments and if you like what your read be social and share.

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