Care Media Marriage
Quoted Article from American
Medical Directors Association:
Preparation, promptness, reason, and respect
enable physicians to enjoy interactions with
members of the media
by Joanne Kaldy
Your facility has a salmonella poisoning
outbreak. You are busy handling the situation
when the phone rings. A reporter from your local
newspaper is on the line. She starts asking
pointed questions, and your hands begin to
Is this how you imagine encounters with the
media? While the historical relationship between
the long-term care industry and the news media
has often been adversarial, facility medical
directors and other team leaders can enjoy
positive interactions and mutual respect with
news reporters, editors, and producers. By
treating the media with respect, being prepared
and informed, and having systems to address
"newsworthy" situations, interdisciplinary
leaders can envision press encounters that are
dreams instead of nightmares.
Medical directors and
other interdisciplinary team leaders
actually can relax and enjoy interviews
with journalists if they follow these
- Stay on
topic. Keep your key
messages handy and refer back to
them when answering questions or
when there is a lull in the
- Don't be
passive. "Too many people
look at interviews as just answering
questions," said Dunlop. "In fact,
they should be an exchange of ideas.
If you just answer the questions
passively, you don't open the
reporter's horizons." The more you
answer questions thoughtfully and/or
by introducing themes the reporter
wasn't expecting, the more in
control of the interview you will
realistic. Don't expect a
journalist to let you review the
article prior to publication.
However, if any discussion is
time-sensitive, you can ask
reporters to sign a nondisclosure
agreement prior to the interview.
This stipulates that any information
discussed cannot be released until
an agreed-upon date.
- Know who
you're talking to at all times.
Ask what media outlet the reporter
represents. If you're unfamiliar
with the publication or program, ask
for more information. Inquire how
the journalist got your name.
- Try to
ascertain if the reporter has a
grasp of the topic. "If
not, gently suggest that he read up
on it," offered Monte Levinson, MD,
CMD, vice president of medical
affairs, Presbyterian Homes,
Evanston, Ill. "Otherwise, you spend
time educating him on something he
united. Particularly in
emergency situations, discuss with
facility leadership, legal
representatives, or other
appropriate parties what you can or
cannot say. All comments from all
stakeholders interviewed should be
consistent with the organization's
respond to a confrontation with
another confrontation. Dr.
Levinson recalled an interview in
which he had to use such an
approach. "I was interviewed about
HMOs long ago when they were still a
new concept. The television reporter
starting making statements that
started with, 'It is well-known
that...' I finally had him stop the
camera." Dr. Levinson then calmly
explained that he wouldn't respond
to "set up" questions or efforts to
explain yourself. The main
reason people are misquoted is that
"they don't speak in full
sentences," cautioned Dunlop.
"Answering with single words or
phrases can get you in trouble
because they easily can be taken out
- Don't try
to wing it. "If you don't
know something, say so. You will
grow in stature if you say 'I don't
know,'" said Dr. Levinson.
These steps will
increase the chances that an interview
is constructive and that the interviewee
will be quoted accurately and
appropriately. Nonetheless, there are no
guarantees. Misquotes or inaccurate
information are not entirely avoidable.
When these happen, alert the reporter or
media outlet to the error.
"If I had a bad
interview, I would let that individual
know specifically what the problem was,"
suggested Dr. Levinson.
Step One: Take the First Step
Reporters and other members of the media are
less intimidating if you know the players.
Therefore, Michael O. Schwager, president of
Worldlink Media Consultants, Inc. in Fort
Lauderdale, Fla., suggested being proactive in
meeting the press and establishing
"Find out who the health editor of your local
newspaper is and who the health or medical
producers and reporters are at area television
and radio stations," he offered, suggesting
practitioners call these individuals,
"introducing yourself and offering to help them
if they have questions about your area of
Of course, it is important to know the media
protocol of your facility or organization. Many
facilities have staff specifically designated to
handle media relations. For instance, Helene
King, communications coordinator for Levindale
Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in
Baltimore, is the media contact at her facility.
"Everything goes through me first," she
explained. "I arrange for reporters to speak
with our physicians or others, as appropriate."
Many facilities have specific polices about
dealing with the media and/or granting
interviews. Some, such as Illinois-based
Presbyterian Homes, have decision-making trees
identifying individuals who are authorized to
make statements or speak for the organization.
Recognizing Opportunities to Inform, Educate
Getting the press to recognize a facility or
individual as a source of expert information
calls for outreach, and this requires the
ability to see opportunities for newsworthy
stories. For example, when actor Christopher
Reeves died from a wound infection last year,
King contacted reporters to "pitch" the idea for
a story about her facility's dedicated wound
care team and how it works with paralyzed
patients to prevent pressure ulcers and
news to make news is a common and effective way
to develop ideas for possible articles and to
encourage the media to see a physician or other
individual as an expert voice. "Medical stories
are occurring all the time," said Schwager, who
suggested going to the "Health" section of
or similar Web sites to keep "your finger on the
pulse of what's in the news that you might
personalize to your facility or patients."
pitching stories can be effective, Schwager
cautioned physicians and others to use this
technique sparingly. "If you call several times
with weak or marginal story ideas, reporters are
likely to stop taking your calls after awhile,"
Journalists use specific criteria to determine
if you have a story. These include the
originality, immediacy, and potential of the
idea to affect a large number of people. It is
important to be cognizant of the reporter's time
when pitching an idea.
"Don't hound reporters with lengthy pitches. You
just need a couple of sentences that capture the
story's essence and catch the journalist's
interest," said Schwager.
get discouraged if an editor or a reporter turns
down an idea. "If you approach journalists with
a good story idea and they decline, you haven't
lost your chance to approach again," explained
Schwager. "At the least, you have established a
relationship on which you can build."
the pitch as an investment in your relationship
with the media.
Keep Problems from Becoming Bad Press
Unfortunately, dealing with the media often
occurs during times of crisis, accidents, or
other problems. The good news is that these
experiences don't have to result in negative
press or embarrassment for facilities or
When confronted with a crisis, "there are
several elements to consider in dealing with the
media," said Steve Dunlop, president of Dunlop
Media, Inc., York City, and a former newspaper,
radio, and television reporter. These include:
- Compassion--put the human
element first. Express sympathy and
compassion for individuals who are wronged
- Cooperation--affirm that
you are cooperating with appropriate
commitment to core principles.
There are two additional elements Dunlop
suggested for handling a "highly acute" crisis:
- Contrition--be apologetic
as appropriate; and
- Correction--admit when a
mistake is made and emphasize what is being
done to correct or resolve the situation and
prevent the same mistake from happening in
It's important not to ignore or avoid the
media when a negative situation or crisis
develops. "Don't let the situation escalate to
the point where you get ambushed in the parking
lot by a news crew," offered Dunlop.
"Ninety-five percent of the time, such ambushes
occur because the reporter cannot get
information in a conventional way--by an
interview being granted or telephone call
Turning Bad News into Opportunities
Crisis situations are less likely to result
in unfair or damaging news reports if the
facility leadership has established good
relationships with area media representatives.
"If you have a good relationship, reporters
more likely to come to you before publishing
something negative or potentially damaging,"
suggested Cheryl Phillips, MD, CMD, medical
director for Sutter Health in Sacramento, Calif.
Nonetheless, "don't expect a reporter to just
take your word that an allegation is untrue. It
is best to produce some evidence to back up what
you say," offered Dunlop.
Good community relations also can help during
a crisis. "Third parties in the community can
vouch for you," said Dunlop. "Nursing homes in
many communities have these kinds of networks
and relationships. Know who your supporters are
and if and when it's appropriate to contact them
Crises can be positive. "The Chinese
character for crisis is really the combination
of two characters--danger and opportunity," he
said. "Be alert for opportunities to communicate
something positive that relates to the crisis.
If the problem involves unsafe practices, it is
an opportunity to look at your own safety record
and--assuming it's good--emphasize that."
Last Step: Follow-Up
Relationships with media don't necessarily
end with an article or television segment. In
fact, they are likely to be ongoing if "you keep
commitments, speak respectfully--without
offensive language--and provide consistently
accurate information," suggested Dr. Phillips.
"These things start the relationship, and the
relationship builds on experience and comfort."
One Physician's Media Experiences
Dr. Phillips doesn't
hesitate to answer the phone when a reporter
from the Sacramento Bee or other local media
"As physicians, we're not
often well trained in media management," she
admitted. Yet she has developed a mutually
respectful relationship with the press.
Preparation is key.
"Before you talk to the media, make sure you
have three or four key message points," she
explained. "These are messages that you want
to get across during the course of the
interview. This way, you can give honest
answers, but you bring them back to your
Don't be afraid to be
proactive with the media when problems
occur. For example, one of Dr. Phillips'
facilities discovered that it wasn't storing
pediatric vaccines the way the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
"We sent out letters
recommending revaccinations, and we alerted
the media to the situation," she recalled.
"We acknowledged the mistake, but also
emphasized that it was not an uncommon one
and that we care very much about quality. We
also used this as an opportunity to address
the importance of vaccinations."
As a result, the media
coverage of the situation was generally
Even situations that seem
negative at first can become opportunities
to educate the public. Dr. Phillips
remembered a scenario where an emergency
room physician noticed bruises on a nursing
facility patient and reported suspected
abuse to the police. In reality, the bruises
were from attempts to insert a catheter and
not from abuse; the facility was cleared of
any wrongdoing. Still, the press was "all
over the story." Dr. Phillips explained the
reasons for the bruises and then took the
opportunity to emphasize the importance of
addressing elder abuse.
Dr. Phillips doesn't have
nightmares about reporters catching her by
"Even if it is a sudden,
unplanned interview, I take 30 seconds to
think about what I want to say," she said.
When she receives a call from a reporter,
she seldom says no to requests for
interviews. Instead, "As soon as I say yes,
I ask the reporter to frame the topic for me
and give me a minute to consider it. I try
to visualize a message box with my core
messages--those three or four supporting
statements I can bridge back to during the
course of the conversation."
Even reporters on deadline
are generally happy to give someone a minute
or two to prepare, she stressed. "It's in
their best interest as well," said Dr.
Phillips. "They don't want someone who is
fumbling around. They want someone with
clear, cogent thoughts."
Joanne Kaldy has been writing for Caring