Expect the unexpected with media coverage

At events, ensure patient privacy, positive results

(Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series on sponsoring community events and open houses. In last month's issue, we covered open houses. In this month's issue, we give you suggestions for handling the media.)

One of the benefits of sponsoring community events or open houses is increasing awareness of your facility's name in a positive light. While most outpatient surgery program managers are pleased with direct contact with business leaders, referring physicians, potential patients, and community members, media coverage increases the audience that learns about the program.

Members of the media were notified about the opening of the Corvallis (OR) Clinic Surgery Center, the first freestanding multispecialty center in the area. Staff members prepared for the local print media, but she and her staff were not prepared for some media activities, admits Judy Corwin, director of marketing and public relations for the Corvallis Clinic.

"We have a very good relationship with our local media, which is primarily print, and we worked with a reporter prior to the opening on an article that was timed to appear the week of our grand opening," Corwin says. Press releases were sent to all of the local radio stations as well as all print media and to television stations that cover the area but are located almost 50 miles away. "We really didn't expect television coverage and should have been better prepared," Corwin says.

Worked with patients

Two television stations sent reporters and cameras to show the facility and to interview patients. "We scheduled their visits ahead of time to enable us to get patient permission to be interviewed and to get waiver forms signed," she says. "We also prepared the patient for the type of questions the reporter might ask, and we made sure they were comfortable answering the questions."

Patients were told that reporters would ask about their procedure and how they felt, but patients should not go into too many personal details that might make them uncomfortable, she explains.

One television station's visit and resulting coverage went very well, says Corwin. Unfortunately, the other station was more than one hour late arriving at the surgery center, which meant the patients who had been prepared for the interview had left, she says. "When the reporter and cameraman arrived, they wanted to go through the facility and talk with patients, but I was hesitant because none of the patients in the facility had been prepared and none had signed privacy waivers," she says. Because she wanted to be flexible, she allowed the reporter and camera operator to go into the patient areas to shoot "B" roll, which is video only. Corwin had explained that patients could not be interviewed because no one had been approached about releases. However, as she accompanied the reporter and camera operator into the recovery area, a patient told the reporter that she wanted to be interviewed. "I could not jump in and stop the interview at this point without offending the patient," she explains.

Although the patient's comments were not negative, she had not been given any of the information about the center that the "prepped" patients had been given. The patient went into more detail about the procedure and her condition than Corwin thought necessary for television. "I learned my lesson," she says. "I was hesitant to proceed with the television visit, but I went ahead anyway," she says. Corwin will now let reporters know that if a television crew is that late for a visit, another day or time will be scheduled, she says. "It was too much of an imposition on our patients and our staff, and the results were not what we wanted."