Why internal communication is the linchpin of your health care organization

Employee engagement can make or break your hospital, and it starts with meaningful interaction. Here’s expert guidance on how to improve your messaging.

Tips for better hospital comms

Most hospital execs recognize the importance of external marketing.

I wish I could say the same for internal communication (IC). It seems that internal communication becomes important only when a “crisis” is brewing, or when some controversial decision must be announced. In any case, IC is often underappreciated, undervalued and misunderstood—and that lack of prioritization could be ruining staff morale.

Engagement pays (in many ways)

Effective internal communication is directly tied to employee engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to become advocates for your organization, and they tend to provide better care.

A recent Advisory Board study found that every 1% increase in hospital employee engagement correlated with a 0.33-point increase in the facility’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems overall hospital rating (which can affect a hospital’s Medicare  reimbursement).

The study showed that a 1% increase in hospital employee engagement was tied to a 0.41-point increase in patient safety grades. Researchers also found that engaged employees are three times as likely as disengaged employees to earn top performance marks.

If your IC program is substandard, it could be causing a negative—perhaps even deadly—domino effect throughout your organization. If that sounds like hyperbole, consider this: Gallup found that nurse engagement is the No. 1 predictor of mortality variation across hospitals.

How to improve your internal communication

An effective communication program should be the voice of your organization. It should break down operational silos, allow for two-way communication and be targeted and consistent.

Most employees are hungry for communication. The problem is, we often feed them messaging that’s complicated, irrelevant or bland. Many hospitals also just communicate when something “bad” has happened or is about to happen.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these five thoughts:

  • Employees want a big-picture perspective of where the organization is headed and how they can contribute to that vision. (If you go too deep into the details, you’ll lose them.)
  • Staffers are more concerned about patients and quality of care than operational updates. If you need to discuss operational changes, do it in the context of how the changes will help improve patient care.
  • Workers crave dialogue, and they want to be heard. They have valuable opinions and insights that administrators and leaders should hear to help move your organization forward. Make sure there is a channel for meaningful conversation among executives, management and all other staff.
  • Messages that come directly from supervisors and trusted leaders tend to resonate with staff. However, employees can spot insincerity a mile away, so credibility and transparency are key.
  • Hospital staffers rarely hear about the “good stuff” and what they’re doing right. Authentic kudos can drive engagement, so don’t skimp on praise. Don’t miss an opportunity to share positive stories about the organization—as well as superstar staff members.

Tactics to try

Of course, one size does not fit all when communicating with a diverse, often dispersed, staff. Try a variety of messaging formats and forums, such as:

  • There’s a time and place for professionally produced videos, but smartphones can capture footage that’s real, compelling and employee driven. Banish boring talking heads, and start shooting engaging, entertaining and employee-centric videos.
  • Blogs can help show transparency and develop a more personal connection among CEOs, management and staffers.
  • When your intranet is well designed and easy to navigate, employees tend to engage with it more often. It’s a useful tool that can become a one-stop information shop for employees.
  • Email. Email continues to rank high on the list of employees’ preferred means of communication. The caveat is that if they hear from you too often, they’ll start to ignore you, so make sure any message you send is relevant, timely and targeted.
  • Print is far from dead. Many employees still want a nice magazine or newsletter to pick up and read.
  • Employee forums. An effective employee forum promotes transparency, two-way communication and an interactive environment. If your plan is just to have the CEO talk at employees for an hour, maybe do something different.
  • Employee ambassador program.Before launching an initiative, try to gain buy-in and acceptance internally. Assemble a group of employees who can review, revise and enhance messaging before it’s approved.

Failing internal communication programs are not a small or trivial matter. It’s an issue that carries very real consequences for employee engagement—and organizational performance. That makes it not just an issue for marketing or human resources, but a top-level concern that merits attention from CEOs, execs and administrators. Plan, invest and act accordingly.

Mike Milligan is president of Legato Healthcare Marketing. A version of this post first appeared on the Legato Healthcare Marketing blog.


One Response to “Why internal communication is the linchpin of your health care organization”

    Christina Noce says:


    I am a Ragan member and was curious if you have some examples of what you meant by this statement below. Do you have some examples of these kinda of videos for reference? Thank you!

    There’s a time and place for professionally produced videos, but smartphones can capture footage that’s real, compelling and employee driven. Banish boring talking heads, and start shooting engaging, entertaining and employee-centric videos.

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