By Amer Aidi
Coronavirus crisis has proven how important it is to have clear lines of communication, writes Amer Aidi, group head of communications & marketing, SEHA
In the healthcare sector, it is part of the job to deal with life and death situations. Medical staff are trained to be resilient, to handle pressure and make tough decisions based on a deep level of expertise, data and sometimes pure professional instinct.
For healthcare communications teams, handling a crisis in an era of Covid-19 has some striking parallels. The way communications are handled; the effectiveness of a public health message or the penetration of a staff memo containing critical guidance, can now be the difference between prevention and life threatening illness.
Since the global pandemic made its unwelcome entry into our daily lives, SEHA, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, has been at the forefront in supporting the government in its fight against the virus. As an organization, we have had to adapt quickly, building entirely new hospitals in a matter of weeks, setting up world class testing facilities in a similar time frame and finding ways for our dedicated staff to navigate an entirely new and novel disease.
The speed of this response has seen one of the biggest mobilisations and collective efforts this country has ever seen. And more than ever before, the value of effective, strategic and often resourceful communications has come to the fore. The centrality of communications in a time of sustained pressure has shown just how important it is.
For SEHA, communications had already been identified as a key pillar in the organisation’s transformation programme, but during the pandemic there are three key observations that have underpinned this role.
Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a fast evolving and dynamic situation which has required rapid organisational shifts that in normal circumstances would take months if not years to implement. Communications have needed to be just as agile, ensuring that internal and external stakeholders are aligned, understand their role as part of a wider mission and that patients know what to do.
For instance, when we partnered with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi and ADNEC to convert their facilities into field hospitals capable of handling 1,000 patients, a massive mobilisation effort was required.
Equally, when the government directed a huge increase in testing capacity, including innovative drive-through facilities, a wide array of people and professionals needed to be engaged and activated in the space of a few weeks.
Faced with these enormous undertakings, at its simplest level, the communications function has played a vital coordination role as the fulcrum of activity through which information flows.
The flip side of a rapidly changing situation is that things can quickly go off course if there isn’t a clarity of vision. This is where the second key observation comes into play; the preeminence of leadership in a time of crisis.
In the UAE we are blessed with wise and visionary leaders. The response to the global pandemic has seen rapid, coordinated and proactive action to mitigate the challenges faced. Providing the clarity of purpose has been vital.
However, the pandemic has also highlighted the key leadership quality of foresight; staying ahead of the curve as things change.
Take the introduction of SEHA’s Telemedicine Virtual Outpatient Clinic to minimise visitations while ensuring the continuation of world class care. Efforts such as this aren’t immediately about the crisis, but by thinking ahead, future issues can be avoided. For communicators this is equally true. We have had to prepare for the unexpected and think through various scenarios in real time.
Equally, for a complex organisation likes ours, leaders have had to double down on collaboration. From a communications perspective, this has meant engaging quickly and efficiently with new partners, whether peers in government or third parties helping on a specific activity. Leadership sets the example for positive collaboration; but it is also the oil that enables these wheels to turn smoothly and drive forward the actions needed.
While leadership is essential, the third observation is one around the related topic of teamwork. This is true across the organisation, but for the communications function at SEHA, the challenge of supporting the organisation in the fight against the pandemic has meant a vastly accelerated evolution in our team.
Amer Aidi, group head of communications & marketing, SEHA