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The ability of leaders within the healthcare organizations to successfully articulate the organization’s vision and mission in order to achieve a desired future state is centrally dependent on its organizational success. However, in this rapid changing world of healthcare, such success is attributed to the key role of policy and strategic advisory being outlaid by the public relations (PR) professionals in the institution.   This is due to the fact that the main role of the public relations personnel is to ensure that the key policy and strategy planning are ideal and positioned to help create the organization’s vision. This pilot report explores the role of the Director Public Affairs and Strategic planning in one of the health center hospitals based on a just concluded in-depth interview.

On the description of the organization, the McGill Health Centre (MUHC) is considered as a healthcare network in the city of Montreal, Quebec. It is one of the largest medical institutions in Canada. It is a merger of five hospitals; the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Institute, the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and the Montreal Chest Institution. It is therefore a very specialized institution that serves as a teaching hospital. It is an affiliate to the McGill University and gets its funding from Quebec taxpayers. This funding is channeled through the Ministry of Health and Social Services as provided for by the Canada Health Act.

With employees’ capacity of atleast13, 000, the institution’s mandate is to offer products and services that promote its primary mission of providing inpatient and ambulatory care to its downtown and West Island clientele (MUHC, 2013). The organization is specialized in providing clinical care and ultra-specialized services both to the broader metropolitan and provincial population.  Addition to the health and teaching services, the center is entitled to provide the infrastructure such as research funding to researchers in order to improve clinical care to the public.

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Even though, Organization is a specialized healthcare institution, its clinical reputation has made everyone to seek for its treatment services. It is projected that annually, more than 700,000 patients are admitted for care in the institution. With such inclusive admission, promoting excellence in care delivery and efficiency in services and products distribution is highly important for the institution. However, this highly depends on the insightful and decisive role played by the institution’s Director of Public Affairs and Strategic planning.

On the question of the role of the public relations personnel, a catch of the interview with the Organization’s Director of Public Affairs and Strategic Planning (DPASP) stipulated three distinct roles. First, the DPASP is entitled to enhance internal, external, and interactive communication network in the institutions. Communication is an important aspect of such an institution because they normally prefer dealing with its problems internally in order not to compromise any patient due to the merger of affiliated hospitals.  Therefore, any DPASP is suppose to focus a lot on internal and external communication technologies such as social media in order to vision his roles of bringing the views of patients, healthcare professionals, and other stakeholders. Within the communication department, Media Relations which deals on clinical research and funding campaigns, a dedicated team is incorporated to run the communication systems in order to promote such organizations’ mission of excelling in clinical care.

Communication efficiency has been a core element to most healthcare organizations’ PR strategies (Samantaray, 2010). In ensuring that they influence providers, patients, and product payers, many of them have made media relations a primary element of both their public relations and budgeting. This has seen various health care institutions to incorporate the use of social media such as twitter and facebook as a direct-to-patient marketing. This helps them to interactively communicate with their various stakeholders. With a 5% budget deficit on research and clinical services, having a strategic planning that is efficient in reducing the budget expenses by not compromising on patient’s care is essential for the institution.

Internally, social media as well as the websites of many health care organizations have ffectively enhanced the training of staff. This has resulted into a direct linkage between those directly in charge of public relations with corresponding healthcares. Externally, the social media has enabled such professionals to incorporate digital elements in their healthcare campaign. This has made it easier for the public to be well informed on institution’s products and services. Consequently, this answers the questions of who the public relation person interact with internally and externally.

Secondly, professionals in charge of public relations in many organizations are responsible for government relations as part of their stakeholders’ management. This is especially applicable with those institutions funded by public money (taxpayers) since it is important for such health care institutions to function in a responsible manner. This will ensure that the organization attains validity and essentiality of stakeholders’ involvement. Some healthcare practitioners do view their visioning roles as only limited to communication thereby not incorporating stakeholder’s views in this process (Freeman, Harrison & Wicks, 2007). “Good PR is not driven by what they say about their products and issues. It is driven by what other people say about them” (Freeman, Harrison & Wicks, 2007, p.11).

Changes that has been effected to the healthcare systems over the last few years has not only made market access, pricing, and reimbursement critical in driving prescription, but it is also central in enhancing sales revenue. This has emerged from the structural changes in the healthcare systems, the dynamics of patients, and payer behavior. The three factors have been altered significantly thereby creating a complex environment that has brought out significant shift to the importance of key stakeholders. As a result, effective stakeholder management which is central to the role of any public relation officer in any health care setting has also become a critical element in determining the future success of the organization.

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In answering thee question whether the organization has a formal relation plan; it is evident from the interview that the organization has incorporated a systematic effort plan. The organization, via its public relations manager has been able to prioritized stakeholder groups within the visioning process. The groups which include; payers, government bodies, standard-setting bodies, physician, and patients and advocacy play significant role in care delivery and revenue collection. For instance, payers normally assess the effectiveness of healthcare products in terms of superiority versus non-inferiority, and their long-term outcome versus response (Freeman, Harrison & Wicks, 2007). As a result they are able to adjust the reimbursement channels thereby affecting treatment protocol. To avert this, organizations have to increase their implementation of incentives and penalty schemes based on payers’ influence.

Being responsible for government relations, public relations administrators have increased the importance of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) in the organization. This can be achieved by playing a key role of developing treatment and reimbursement guidance that addresses stakeholders’ complexity. In so doing, the organization is able to secure support, leverage its relationship with stakeholders, and amplify its messages especially by showing stakeholders’ views thereby enhancing their healthcare centers reputations.

Additionally, the public relation administrator has also contributed to the strategic planning process in any health care center. Strategic planning normally requires the choices to be made on the healthcare center’s future (Day, Gardner & Herba, 2011). These choices are concerned with the organization’s vision and mission, the services and products that should be offered and to whom as well as the resources such as people, facilities, money, technology, and knowledge that will be needed.  All these enable the efficiency of any health care center. Having a strategic plan has a number of advantages to an organization. First, it help’s in improving performance by providing a determined future directions. Second, it allows the healthcare center to provide high quality healthcare services as it will be able to optimize on its resource allocation. Thirdly, it enables the organization to meet its vision and mission statement based on its adherence to accreditation and requirement regulattions. More significantly, strategic planning helps in maximization of chances for success.

In order to ensure that the above advantages are achieved, hence excellence, many health care organizations normally device a formal public relations plan. For example, the New McGill University Health Center (MUHC) plan is the strategic initiatives that tend to pertain to the new hospital building that will be completed in 2015.  By undertaking to carryout a $2.355 billion Redevelopment Project, MUHC has sought actively implement its vision of ensuring patient-centered care that integrates and improve research and teaching (MUHC, 2013). This project which would be a three sate-of-the art site are not only built and modernized, but are as well crafted around the vision of “the Glen site, the Montreal General Hospital, Lachine Hospital,” (MUHC, 2013, p.1).

Just like other health care centers, MUHC, through its DPASP, has devised a clinical plan term, “Wealth of MUHC Initiatives” that has been created to help patients and their entire community in understanding illness and mange their care. In achieving this, the institution has continued to distribute healthcare materials such as “Living with a tracheotomy” either in magazine or DVD form to patients. Additionally, through its PR, the institution has provided interactive guide on how to care for diseases such as breast cancer which is available online at http://patienteducation.muhc.ca/.  These are education plans which are taken to provide patients and the entire community with knowledge towards healthcare. In so doing, the healthcare center is able to achieve its core mission of excelling in teaching, educating, and quality healthcare delivery.

While the above roles are normally obligated to the people in charge of public relations, what is important is whether these roles allow them to address issues and problems or promote the facility. By effectively handling internal and external communications, such employees are able to deal with a variety of situations (issues) thereby promoting the health care facility. For instance, based on interactive and excellent communication tools and educational materials that are produced through the Department of Public Relations, there is promotion of services offered at the facility which makes it easier in handling issues relating to health care. However, DPASP’s role does not give an equal and appropriate opportunity in managing disaster as it concentrate more on issues pertaining to clinical care and maintenance.

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Concerning the question of challenges faced by public relations officer in this position, it comes out that the most difficult tasks is on how to balance the media interest with its responsibility of protecting patient’s confidentiality and privacy. This was evident during the death of Montreal blues legend and music agent Barry Mell who was admitted for treatment for heart disease but suddenly passed away at the hospital. Stemming from public’s anxiety to know when, reasons, and condition for the legendary admission, balancing the truth and patient’s confidentiality was a great challenge to the PR.  But in controlling the damage that had been attributed to media converge on the legend; the director of public affairs and strategic planning confirmed the presence of the patient only through the consent of their next of kin (MUHC, 2013). This included a confirmation that the patient was admitted and the current conditions of the patient. However, DPASP did not offer further comment on specific details of the patient which included the reason for hospitalization, nature of the illness, possible discharged dates, and the names of attending physicians even with the consent of the patient or next of kin (MUHC, 2013). It therefore requires insightful consideration in understanding the role and limitations of PR’s duty.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the interview has helped in understanding the key roles and challenges associated with public relations. It is clear that a public relations officer such as MUHC’s DPASP has the obligation of giving out regular information on policy, plans, and achievement that the organization is entitled when certain changes are effected.  Additionally, the work of public relation in healthcare field is to ensure that the public and other stakeholders are informed and educated on legislations, regulations, and all matters that improve their health care and well-being.

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