We will plan our #QiComms from the start

Communications can have a very significant and positive impact on healthcare professionals – for their motivation, their joy in work and their effort to create and sustain improvements. However, it’s important to include communications from the very start of a project. That’s what principle 2 in the #QiComms Charter is about: We will plan our #QiComms from the start.

About #QiComms
#QiComms is the strategic communications part of quality and safety improvement that builds the will and momentum for achieving improvement goals.
It uses communications in a planned way to support and underpin work that inspires, motivates and informs all those involved to deliver better, safer treatment and care.

Communications from the beginning and on time – an example

Imagine an improvement project aiming to eliminate pressure ulcers. Then you might, in a somewhat old fashioned and reactive manner, issue a press release after one year. Perhaps the press release concludes that there has been only a few pressure ulcers during the first year. You may be able to say that there has been no pressure ulcers during the whole year. Most likely that will make a fine story in the local newspaper, but it would be even better if, throughout the year, there had been an ongoing and continuous communication effort around the project, methods, aims and preliminary results.

It is ambitious to declare that you want to eliminate pressure ulcers. From the very beginning of a project like that there can be a multitude of interesting angles, aspects and different stories. Exactly what is the problem, and how big is it? What can we do about it? What’s the aim? Who will do the improvement work? Which mental and practical obstacles will staff be likely to face? Behind all these questions you will find real people who are interesting to meet, to read about and/or listen to: The elderly woman who suffers from pressure ulcers. The nurse who tries to do something about it. You can tell their story. Or they can tell their own story. In words, photos or both. Share their experiences via social, internal or external media.

Don Berwick of IHI puts it like this: “To deliver QI in complex systems you need to win everyone over – you can have all the facts right, but if people don’t understand the story you won’t get the conversation going.”

A driverdiagram for communications

Real time data

Real time data is vitally important for improvement work. Instead of evaluations after six months or a full year, we continuously look at real time data along the way. We plan, do, study and act – adjusting our work based on data. And it is important to communicate what happens during the full journey. Perhaps we realize that pressure ulcers, in our particular setting, have to be tackled in a slightly different way than we assumed to begin with. That’s important to communicate. Perhaps just by a tweet which you can also publish on the project website. After a hundred days without pressure ulcers, you can celebrate the initial results, bake a cake, take a photo and share the success and your enthusiasm with your team mates in the project. These are not very complicated or demanding communications initiatives, but they are important.

When you include communications from the start and when you are open and transparent about challenges and preliminary results, it will be easier and better for you to tell about the end result however long the journey.

Communications between healthcare professionals and the professional communicators

Inge Kristensen, CEO at the Danish Society for Patient Safety, is among the increasing number of leaders in Denmark and internationally who see communications as an integral part of improvement work: “Communications are essential to leaders for building will and mobilizing staff.”

But if healthcare professionals feel that irrelevant communications plans are imposed on them, things start to go wrong. The people who have to carry out the improvement work also have to have a stake in the communications effort. Healthcare professionals must be involved from the beginning in order for them to feel ownership. In many cases, they will be perfectly capable, themselves, of communicating important messages, experiences and results, via social media for example.

The purpose of communications is not communications itself. The purpose is mobilization and sharing of knowledge and experience among staff – in order to strengthen the improvement work. If communications are to succeed, healthcare professionals and professional communicators must fully agree on that basic premise.

A survey of healthcare professionals in the Danish Safer Hospital program illustrated the importance of communications in the project. In particular, exposure in internal media (hospital website for example) and professional media (such as a professional healthcare journal) scored high among this target group. This kind of media coverage, according to the survey, created motivation and a sense of a shared goal – thus, at the same time, helping efficiency and creating results.

Find out more about ‘The #QiComms Charter’,  and join in the conversation on Twitter, using #QiComms

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