Transparency During a Crisis – What Hospitals Can Learn from Johns Hopkins

Guest post by Nancy Cawley Jean, a senior media relations officer with more than 20 years of health care communications experience. Nancy manages social media for the hospitals in the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island and can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NancyCawleyJean.

Johns Hopkins Hospital has a wonderful reputation for providing outstanding health care. They’re also no stranger to the social media world. In 2010, when a shooting occured at the hospital, they quickly turned to social media to provide regular updates. Their efforts were admirable, to say the least, and the effort appeared well-coordinated, even during a crisis situation that was unfolding by the minute.

In February 2013 the hospital faced yet another crisis when an employee reported that a gynecologist had been using personal equipment to take pictures and videos of his patient. Later that same month the gynecologist committed suicide. John Hopkins’ response to the crisis, once again serves as a model for transparency in social media.

Johns Hopkins’ approach? They posted it for everyone to see right on their Facebook page. Short, sweet and to the point. The post described what happened, explained that privacy breaches are not tolerated, and stated what the hospital was doing about the situation. You don’t get any more transparent than that, nor can you approach the situation any better.

As a media relations professional, I’ve experienced the behind-the-scenes efforts during a hospital crisis. In a conservative and cautious industry, a crisis response plan usually isn’t acted on in a matter of minutes, but more likely hours. Yet in today’s world, social media has given rise to the 24/7 news cycle. Media outlets and citizen journalists are posting and reading information and breaking news everywhere, all the time.

At times organizations avoid posting a crisis response or situation publicly on their Facebook page or Twitter feed. In the eyes of some organizations this seems to “air dirty laundy” and make the issue too public; likewise these same organizations often avoid giving statements, except to a select few inquiries. While I understand the thinking behind this approach, I’m here to tell you if the approach isn’t transparent, it simply won’t work anymore.

Transparency is a way to build loyalty and garner advocates for your brand. Being transparent and straightforward in any situation will more likely earn respect, even if your community is offended by the situation.


The result? The comments on Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Facebook page were obviously mixed, especially since some of the comments were posted by patients. Overall, however, there were nearly 90 “likes” on the post — an obvious indication that people appreciated their openness.

Do I think Johns Hopkins built advocates for their brand? Absolutely. I’m personally impressed with how they handled the situation, and I hope we can rise to the same level of transparency when I find our organization in its next crisis.

What about you? Do you agree with their approach? If not, what would you have done differently?


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