Social Workers Bring Help and Hope

For Them, Caring is a Calling

“Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

What is it that makes social workers tick? With March being National Social Work Month, we at SPRYTE thought what better time to delve into some of their motivations and inclinations?

For healthcare communicators, who are often tasked with showcasing the conscience of their organization – whether through corporate social responsibility programs, employee communications, or thought leadership initiatives – understanding how and why social workers do what they do can help shine a bright light on the path ahead.

For Episcopal Community Services’ Neibert Richards, MSW, LSW, it was always about caring and people.

“I originally went to school to major in nursing, but soon after I arrived, the school decided to phase out the major,” she recalls. After that, she was undecided as a major. That’s about the time she was introduced to the opportunity presented by social work.

“The biology and all the other classes just weren’t fitting with what I wanted to do,” says Richards. But the idea of helping others was clearly a guiding force.

 

A Caring Tradition

Those roots run deep. Her father was a minister. Her mother, a teacher. There were four children in all. The family moved to the U.S. from Guyana when she was eight.

“Family was always a huge factor for me,” Richards says. “I was always longing for connections, wanting to know who my cousins are. I was the one who always had an issue when someone couldn’t come to be with the family for the holidays.”

Soon after getting her Master’s in Social Welfare, she joined Episcopal Community Services (ECS), where she signed onto the foster care program. Today, 22 years later, she is Director of Permanent Housing at ECS.

 

Changing Times

Over the years, there have been many changes in the way social workers are viewed, she says.

“I think the career path is better organized. Social workers are viewed more as true professionals.” she says.

Hopefully, that view will supplant what Jeanne Morrison, MSW, Support Services Director for Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care in Philadelphia, says is probably the biggest misperception people have about social workers.

“Lots of times, people use the term ‘social worker’ for someone who is actually a caseworker,” explains Morrison. “Especially in child welfare situations, there is a belief that it’s the social worker who is there to take the child away.  The reality is that the social worker’s goal is to keep families together whenever possible.”

 

Looking at Strengths

Morrison notes that social workers are trained to evaluate clients from a strength standpoint – whether it’s the family, an individual, or a group dynamic. The initial goal is to identify existing strengths that can be built upon to help address certain issues that the client is facing.

She says the effort is a true collaborative partnership between the social worker and the client.

To do that effectively, it’s important “to meet people where they are,” she says. “In order to identify their hopes and plans, you need to understand things from their standpoint. You can’t expect people to come to you. If you do, you’ll get nowhere fast. But if you can understand and meet them where they are, you can start identifying their hopes and dreams from that stanpoint.”

 

Next Generation of Social Workers

Emily Blumenthal is a student at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis currently working toward her degree in social work.

She says the holistic perspective that social workers are trained to utilize is one of the things that led her in this direction.

“As a social worker, you’re trained to look at the environment the individual is in – you need to pay attention to who they’re surrounded by, family, friends, whatever is going on. It’s important to get the whole perspective,” she says.

Blumenthal is currently in the midst of a practicum with Perinatal Behavioral Health Service working with pregnant women with mood disorders or depression, doing screenings and providing information in a clinical setting. Following this, she will move on to another practicum (focus to be determined) that will last about a year. The experience will provide her with a broader base of training and insights that will assist in a future career decision.

She says her ultimate goal is to go into counseling, perhaps working with young adults, couples, and young famiies. But she’s confident that her background and training in social work will enable her to choose from a number of options.

 

Remembering what’s Important

For ECS’ Neibert Richards, that diversity of opportunity is one of social work’s greatest strengths.

“Social workers are a lot of people who care about helping others, giving someone a helping hand to advance to the next stage of life so they can move in a positive direction,” she says.

“They’re the ones, walking the streets, counting the homeless every year for HUD,” Richards explains. “They’re the ones who have no problem going into a home that’s drug-infested, letting someone know that we have a bed here, the kids can come. They’re trying to get them to think beyond this life that they’re in. It isn’t easy for them. Social workers do it because they care.”

For healthcare communicators, when you’re telling your story, caring and people are usually good places to begin as well.

Don’t Let Facebook Trip up your Social Marketing

Solution: Keep Your Digital Content Relevant

Fake news isn’t just a Washington catch phrase. It can be a harbinger of doom for healthcare organizations’ social marketing efforts, especially in the case of Facebook.

With the world’s top social media site recently updating its algorithms to devalue fake, spammy content, click bait (“You won’t believe what happened next!”) and “engagement bait” that has little relevance to anything (“Vote for your favorite flavor ice cream!”) – thereby limiting its exposure on timelines – our friends at Chatterblast, a Philadelphia social media marketing company, broke it all down and offered tips for navigating the new landscape.

The good news for healthcare communicators, who are typically conscientious users of social media for their practices or health systems, is we have a wealth of valuable information from doctors and other highly credible sources we can share. So long as we remain relevant to our audience, and continue to eschew fake, suspiciously or ambiguously sourced content, we’ll continue to get Facebook loving for our social marketing activities.

Read Chatterblast’s full blog here. And remember, SPRYTE is always standing by to help with content optimization to keep you from running afoul of the new standards.

 

Winning Patients’ Hearts with E-marketing

SPRYTE Helps Heart House Show its Love, and Expertise

Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day, but for one SPRYTE client, matters of the heart are a year-long occupation.

Heart House may not be anyone’s destination for a romantic dinner, but the South Jersey cardiology group is striving to be an important part of its patients’ lifestyle year-round. Its 31 doctors at seven locations are authorities in the latest techniques in cardiac care and interventional procedures, so when it comes to healing broken hearts, there’s no one you’d rather talk to.

In 2017, Heart House, seeking to build its brand, create loyalty among patients, and inspire referrals, enlisted SPRYTE to for e-marketing support. Our centerpiece is a bi-monthly newsletter, The Heartbeat.

Wooing Patients beyond Valentine’s Day

Knowing that consumers always like validation that they’ve made the right health care choice, SPRYTE developed The Heartbeat to be a friendly, quick, easy-to-read piece to reinforce that Heart House is a patient-focused practice concerned with delivering care as conveniently as possible. It also conveys that Heart House is on top of current trends in cardiac care, and its physicians are knowledgeable and highly skilled. Specifically, the newsletter:

  • Creates a positive brand impression of Heart House among patients and staff;
  • Keeps the practice name top-of-mind among patients and prospects;
  • Gives patients peace of mind that they are well cared for, and Heart House is committed to helping them thrive.

To do all this, each edition is divided into three sections: a lead story highlighting news and practice initiatives benefitting patients; a cardiac “factoid” with a compelling, easy-to-digest illustration highlighting current trends and epidemiology; and an “Ask the Doctor” feature, shining a light on a new or innovative device or technique in cardiac treatment. Each piece is short and to the point.

For recipients, the first two editions of The Heartbeat were love at first sight. Each enjoyed a 30 percent open rate, nearly twice the 17 percent open rate for physicians, according to a study by Constant Contact.

K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Stupid)

If you’d like to show your love to your patients via e-marketing, here are some things to keep in mind:

Make it about them, not you. Newsletters full of boastful material about that award your doctor or practice won will get relegated to the delete folder quickly. Include useful information or advice that patients can take to heart and improve their health, lifestyle, or patient experience.

Keep it simple. Short blocks of text go a long way with busy readers. Make each item a 1-minute read or less, punctuated by eye-catching graphics. The less scrolling readers have to do, the better. You are striving for a quick, robust brand impression.

Put your brand front and center. Include your logo and tag line or value proposition in the banner, and repeat it at the bottom. Be sure to include contact information and office locations.

Link to your social media. Every e-marketing platform allows you to include links to your social media feeds, so use them. And make sure your newsletter has highly visible Share buttons, so readers can spread the love.

As SPRYTE and Heart House have learned with The Heartbeat, putting tender loving care into your e-marketing effort can pay off by ensuring your patients only have eyes for you.

No Online Presence? That’s Anti-Social!

Your Medical Practice Needs Social Media

It seems that just about everyone is on social media these days. Some cannot get enough of it while others detest it. Regardless of how you feel about it as a healthcare communicator, you can no longer deny its place in modern society and have to view it as a valuable tool. It’s like the old saying “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Current numbers suggest social media is used by more than 80 percent of the population. This percentage has been increasing by about 5 percent every year.

With this in mind, SPRYTE Communications recently partnered with South Jersey Holistic, the practice of Polina Karmazin, MD, a medical doctor and area expert in the field of homeopathic medicine. South Jersey Holistic had a loyal but somewhat small patient base and no real presence outside of its physical location. Through consultation, a plan was developed to build a social media presence. With Facebook still reigning as the most popular social media platform, this was our starting point. In addition to building out the profile and preparing content, a routine was created under which postings would go up daily and in support of the practice’s core treatment offerings.

In 90 days, the practice’s Facebook following grew from 0 to 138. The page currently has 156 followers. Boosted posts were also used with great success. One in particular reached nearly 25,000 Facebook users within 25 miles of South Jersey Holistic’s hometown of Voorhees, N.J., and resulted in 199 post clicks.

Face It: Social Media Influences Decisions

Social media has come a long way. No longer just for posting photos and thinking out loud, platforms such as Facebook influence decisions such as buying a car…or finding a new doctor. That is the real game changer. There has always been a social aspect to buying and, historically, word of mouth was the main means. The personal recommendation was, is and forever will be more powerful than any paid marketing.

There is a pervasive myth in which Nordstrom allowed a customer to return snow tires despite the fact they did not sell snow tires. Whether factual or not really doesn’t matter. That the story has been re-told thousands of times is meaningful and supports the Nordstrom “customer-first” brand. That anecdote took years to reach the ears of those thousands of people. Today, one post has the ability to reach more people in a matter of minutes. We have truly moved from word of mouth to word of click.

Testimonials can be Incredibly Valuable

While it’s up to the organization to ensure a positive patient experience, social media can be harnessed to encourage positive reviews…and be subject to critical ones too. With all channels offering the ability to tag others, re-post/retweet and share, testimonials, ideally factual ones, can go a long way on social media platforms. These can be valuable to stimulate conversation and create buzz.

But once you have a social media presence, it must be monitored and engaged with. Messages and comments should be addressed quickly. You never want less-than-complimentary commentary hanging out there without a response. Even positive comments should be acknowledged, with something as simple as a thumbs up. This will demonstrate that you are engaged with your followers.

Let’s Get Social in 2018!

Facebook offers ease of use and is still the most widely used. Twitter has recently expanded its character limit and is therefore more friendly (note: just because you can now use up to 280 characters doesn’t mean you have to). Instagram is the most photo-centric. If you have compelling visuals, Instagram is a great place to be but should be considered complementary to the others, not used in place of them.

Regardless of which combination of platforms your medical practice decides to use, make it a goal in 2018 to establish your social media voice. Like South Jersey Holistic, you’ll quickly learn how powerful it can be!

SPRYTE’s 2018 Hospice Predictions

Consumerism Drives High Touch and Tech

The past few years have seen a number of issues and innovations gain prominence in healthcare and the hospice industry.

Individualized, patient-centered care, technological advances and a growing ability on the part of patients to actively compare healthcare providers are three of the key trends that healthcare communicators – especially those who work in the hospice industry – are likely to encounter in the months ahead.

 

Focus: Understanding the Whole Patient

Beginning January 1, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began paying physicians to engage in advance care planning conversations with their patients to help them understand and make decisions about their end-of-life treatment preferences.

In the first year, approximately 575,000 Medicare recipients took advantage of the new benefit, according to a Kaiser Health News survey – almost twice the number expected.  Expect that number to increase in 2018. At the same time, look for an effort to broaden the focus of the conversation.

Dr. Tim Ihrig, Chief Medical Officer for Crossroads & Palliative Care (full disclosure: a SPRYTE client), says such conversations should go beyond discussions about extreme treatment measures and do-not-resuscitate orders. Instead, they should empower patients to consider what is most important to them from physical, medical, emotional and spiritual standpoints and use that as a basis for envisioning how they want to live their final days, weeks, months or years. Helping patients understand how palliative care can enhance the quality of their lives as they reach the final stages should be part of that evolving conversation as well.

Healthcare communicators need to understand the growing importance of patient-centric, value-based care to help educate patients and their own staff about best practices and what to expect.

 

More Ability to Compare and Contrast

Over the past few years, the CMS has developed a series of websites aimed at providing consumers with information that will enable them to begin the process of comparing healthcare providers in various sectors, including Physician Compare, Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, and Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility (IRF) Compare. The websites offer a way to compare providers within a geographic area (and against national averages) based on specific quality metrics.

In August, 2017, the CMS launched Hospice Compare. The goal was to allow users to sort through hospices based on quality metrics, such as the percentage of patients who were screened for pain, or difficulty breathing, or whether patients’ preferences are being met. Almost immediately, however, the site became the focus of complaints that incorrect information was being provided – incorrect addresses, phone numbers and profit statuses were among the problems identified.

CMS administrators say they are working hard to correct the bad information. At the same time, they say additional quality metrics will be added to help users make more informed choices as they compare hospice providers. Look for a more accurate and robust Hospice Compare website to appear – eventually. (No clear timeline has been established.)

In the meantime, healthcare communicators need to be alert to new developments and be ready to provide accurate information about their own organizations on a timely basis.

 

Technology’s Role Will Continue to Grow

Many people are still surprised when they learn that hospice is not a place, but rather a program designed to help patients with a terminal illness live peacefully and painlessly as they reach the end of life. The growth of telehealth will make the delivery of hospice-related services more accessible and reliable than ever. Nothing, of course, will supplant the value of in-person visits by a nurse or care provider. But the availability of round-the-clock medical monitoring and telecommunications with patients or family members will enable a higher level of quality care for those who are homebound, who lack family support, or who live in very rural or isolated locations.

Other technological advancements in the area of virtual reality are already helping to educate providers, support staff, first responders and family members about what it’s like to experience some of the conditions and challenges faced by patients who are elderly, infirm, or dealing with dementia. In fact, during 2017, two of our healthcare clients – Crossroads Hospice and Holy Redeemer Health System – staged “virtual dementia tours” for the benefit of caregivers and family members. Special programs such as this allow healthcare providers to showcase their special knowledge while providing an important educational public service – always a great opportunity for communicators.

Additional technology-driven developments are underway – programs to better track opioid use and abuse, enhanced data-driven analytics to help providers in the areas of tracking, documentation and reporting, and improved work management systems that enable providers to offer more timely, efficient care to their patients.

No doubt, 2018 will be an exciting time. As always, healthcare communicators will need to be alert and constantly aware of the fast-paced developments taking place in their industry and how they can impact their own organizations.

Published January 2, 2018 by Spryte Communications in Public Affairs

Great Stories = Great Earned Media

Seek Human Angles, Community Activity

It’s the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

There are many ways to argue it of course. At its most basic, sound is vibrations in the air and whether or not there are ears there to hear it is irrelevant. But this blog is not about arguing the merits of old philosophical dilemmas. Rather, it’s about bringing attention to your organization’s events. And some might argue that if you have an event and no one is there to witness it, it really wasn’t an event at all.

But how do you go about getting the media to your events? It is incumbent upon you to get inside the mind of the viewer and the journalist and think about what’s newsworthy. We know the more salacious the better, and if anything bad or controversial occurs rest assured they’ll be out in force, possibly with helicopters. But if we’re being honest we also know that the media generally seek balance and will engage with a story that is interesting or has “feel good” value. These qualities, along with community outreach initiatives and technological breakthroughs can elevate the reputation of your hospital, health system or facility, and draw in journalists, so start by focusing your efforts there.
The Plan of Attack

A recent SPRYTE example illustrates this approach. Responsible for the promotion of the 2017 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Philadelphia Marathon, SPRYTE employed two of our tried and true tactics, the media advisory and the story pitch, to gain a tremendous amount of media coverage over five months, culminating with the AACR Philadelphia Marathon Weekend Nov. 18-19.

Media advisories were used for pep rallies and announcements, and pitches employed for feature stories. These included the story of U.S. Army Sgt. (Retired) Earl Granville, an Afghanistan vet and wounded warrior who ran the Dietz & Watson Half Marathon Nov. 18 on a prosthetic leg. It was a powerful story that begged for media coverage…and received it, from NBC10, CBS3 and Fox29.

Breandan Lyman also got media loving for his two unlikely paired hobbies: distance running and competitive eating. The frequent Philadelphia “Wing Bowl” competitor was featured in Philadelphia Metro the week leading up to the Marathon. These are just two of the many powerful and quirky stories that have value. You can view these and other Marathon earned media results at this link.

 

The Best Laid Plans…

Alas, it is possible to work everything just right and still miss out on media engagement. For instance, your charitable fundraiser can easily get bumped by another story such as a house fire or local scandal. That’s the nature of the beast. You can’t count on the coverage until you see it on air or in print.

 

Media is Not the Enemy

As we alluded to above, it’s easy to think of the media as that ogre that shows up to call attention to something bad, but this thinking is limiting and not altogether true. The fact is, media want newsworthy content. Giving them what they crave helps them as well as you. Once your story gets covered, it is free and, via social media, possibly viral publicity, ready to be merchandised and shared through your own social channels and other communications tool, as discussed in last week’s Insights blog.

The “Afterlife” of Earned Media Hits

Extend Reach by Marketing the Marketing

If there’s one thing SPRYTE is good at, it’s generating great earned media results for our clients. But what becomes of those terrific stories after they appear?

In days gone by, an article would run in a paper or magazine, (hopefully) be seen by thousands or maybe millions of readers, then get relegated to the recycling bin or bottom of the proverbial birdcage. The agency or client might add the clip to a digital archive, to trot out when someone asked for it down the road. More savvy organizations might get reprints made and add them to their marketing materials.

With the advent of the internet, however, those once-fleeting media “hits” have found an extended afterlife. Those wonderful stories live online, potentially in perpetuity, to be found by consumers, prospective employees and journalists researching your organization. (Unfortunately, so do negative ones, but that’s a topic for another discussion.)

As those stories accumulate, your SEO results will likely increase too. If you’ve read our prior blog on getting backlinks, you’ll have had success in getting journalists to include links to your organization in the online version of stories. According to Google, a whopping 99.2% of sites that show up in the top 50 search results have at least one external link. The more earned media hits you receive, the more valuable links back to your site from legitimate news sources…and the more your credibility will rise in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

SPRYTE, like most agencies, has always merchandised our media results for clients, but our clients have become more and more interested in merchandising them to their own audiences, whether those are patients and prospective patients, employees/doctors, prospective partners and affiliates, franchises or the general public.

And we’re very happy to help, by providing new introductory copy, writing social media posts, or securing digital reprints.

 

Beyond the Birdcage

Here are some ways we recommend taking that glowing media story “beyond the birdcage”:

  • Post the article on your organization’s website, either on your dedicated “In the News Page” if you have one, or your home page if the story merits marquee treatment. You can include a thumbnail, a link to the original source, or a readable image.
  • E-mail a PDF of the article with a cover note to your marketing list, or consider snail-mailing hard copies with a cover letter or handwritten Post-It note (“I just wanted to make sure you saw this great article…”) to particularly hot prospects.
  • Include the article link or the entire article in your organization’s internal newsletter.
  • Share the article link on all your social media channels, and encourage your employees or employee-ambassadors to share or post it on their personal feeds as well.
  • If you’re a franchisor, like a home care company, provide your franchise owners with a ready-to-use blog or paragraph and link that they can use on their microsites, if available.
  • Prepare copy for each of the main social media channels, making posting a turn-key process for franchise owners or affiliates. (Remember, you now have 280 characters to boast on Twitter!)
  • Make hard copies of the article for hand out at trade shows or expos, or to include in leave-behinds. Enlarge and mount the article on foam board for display at your booth or table.
  • Broadcast stories can be edited together and added to the website, played on a loop in waiting rooms, or shown during expos.

One SPRYTE client was so thrilled with the breadth and quality of coverage we generated that they revamped their lobby wall to create a “Wall of Fame” featuring our greatest hits!

 

Run with it, but Play by the Rules

A word of caution: check with the article rights holder before mass distributing any story. Linking to the original source is acceptable in most cases, and the Fair Use Doctrine may apply in many others, but as some stories reside behind paywalls, written permission and/or a fee may be required. Many publications also provide official reprints, including the masthead, at a cost.

Even if you’re not redoing the décor to highlight media hits, positive articles about your organization should become another arrow in your marketing quiver. Fortunately, there are many avenues to prolong the afterlife of great publicity!

Running with Social Media at Philly Marathon

SPRYTE’s Online Storytelling Shines During Race Weekend

Like many communications consultants before us, “social media” was part of our Statement of Work on a very recent government engagement, and at the start of the contract earlier this year, it was relatively undefined.

As experienced healthcare communicators, SPRYTE has been the health system spokesperson and we’ve used earned media, not paid advertising, to deliver bodies to programs from scientific thought leadership panels to high profile entertainment fundraising.

Little did we know what joy we would personally experience and how well our public relations background had prepared us for taking the reigns as the voice of one of America’s top 10 marathons!

That’s right.  Beginning on the eve of the 2017 AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Marathon Weekend, SPRYTE Communications became @philly_marathon on Twitter and the lead responder on the Philadelphia Marathon Facebook page.

We’re still sending love to triumphant runners by retweeting and liking their photos with words of encouragement and by answering their questions about times, medals and shirts.

But what we found so electrifying was the power of the message in the moment during Marathon Weekend.

SPRYTE was blown away by the reach and engagement of our messaging but we were also humbled by the giant responsibility we had as a guardian of the more than 25,000 registrants and an army of Philadelphia City personnel and volunteers.

And by the way, we didn’t delegate to juniors. Everything was handled on-site by pros with more than 25 years in the communications workforce. We may need our reading glasses while composing copy on a smart phone but rest assured, there are no typos and our extraordinary storytelling skills combined with our consumer brand-building expertise really delivered.

Here are three of our favorite posts on the 2017 AACR Philadelphia Marathon Weekend Facebook page:

We Caught the Moment:  Sarah Kiptoo is First Woman to Cross the Finish Line:  SPRYTE was at the Marathon finish line with dozens of media cameras and professional photographers. But the photo we shot one second before Sarah Kiptoo broke the tape was posted on Facebook while she was crossing it.  Everybody had great shots to relish later. Our shot was now! It was instant. (Stats as of noon 12.4.17: 9,242 people reached; 508 Likes; 15 Comments.)

Giving Prime Time Exposure to the Presenting Sponsor:  We gave continued exposure to 2017 Marathon Weekend presenting sponsor, the American Association for Cancer Research Foundation, throughout the weekend.  On behalf of the Philadelphia Marathon and the City of Philadelphia, we leveraged our social media channels to thank the AACR for their cancer research mission and their partnership for the Marathon. AACR Foundation Executive Director Mitch Stoller ran the Half Marathon on Saturday and presented the Marathon medals on Sunday. Check out all the great photos of him that are posted on the AACR Philadelphia Marathon Facebook page.

We Had to Tell a Story Without the Media:  After a heart attack at Mile 23 at age 38 in 2009, Ericka Emerson returned to the Philadelphia Marathon to conquer it. We worked with one of Ericka’s close friends on possible earned media opportunities for several months in advance of the 2017 Marathon. But when Marathon Weekend finally arrived, logistical challenges with all parties prevented a major print or broadcast story. So, SPRYTE stepped up and told the incredible story ourselves with an 11th hour reunion photo of Ericka and the four Philadelphia first responders who saved her life back in 2009.  The inspirational story, which reflects so well upon the City of Philadelphia, and the wonderful photo are still getting noticed.  It gives us chills every time we read it. (Stats as of noon 12.4.17: 13,296 people reached; 552 Likes; 32 Shares; 43 Comments.)

Thanks to our engagement for the 2017 AACR Philadelphia Marathon Weekend, SPRYTE experienced social media management in a new way for our firm.  We are smitten and we think we have a lot of potential. Let us know if you agree. We know “We Did It!” How do you think we did?

Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

Online Information Barriers Risk Litigation  

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in every area of public life, including employment, education, transportation, telecommunications and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

As professional communicators, we work closely with our clients to help them craft messages to reach their target audiences. With the continuing evolution of web-based communications, the need to adapt the message for each target audience is a growing challenge.  For healthcare communicators, making sure important information can be accessed and understood by as many people as possible is critical.

Many of us are familiar with some of the most common changes fostered by the ADA – door ramps, public restroom accommodations, and special wheelchair lifts on public buses, to name a few. But the ADA has also played a key role in the evolution of online commerce, by trying to ensure that the disabled have equal access to goods, services and digital content on websites operated by businesses and other organizations.

 

Technology Brings Change

As part of a recent webinar sponsored by the New England Society for Healthcare Communicators (@NESHCo), presenters from @SilverTech, a digital marketing firm, noted that the federal government often serves as a catalyst for changes that are adopted throughout industries.

Several prominent legal cases have helped further the cause of greater website accessibility for the disabled.

National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp. was a class action suit brought against the retailer because blind consumers could not navigate the Target website and make purchases as readily as a non-disabled consumer could. The result: The court found the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination in the “enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges” applied to public accommodations in cyberspace as well as a physical retail store.

In National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix, Netflix was found to have violated ADA protections because it failed to provide closed captioning for its “Watch Instantly” digital content. The case confirmed that businesses that sell services exclusively through the internet were also subject to ADA provisions that protect disabled citizens against discrimination.

In 2014, an agreement negotiated between the Justice Department and Peapod, an internet grocer, further solidified the scope of the ADA’s reach, by emphasizing the importance of ensuring websites are equally accessible via mobile devices.

 

The Future: Greater Accessibility

These recent cases may be the beginning of many more website accessibility cases. That means pressure on organizations to ensure that digital content on their websites and affiliated technology are independently accessible, regardless of whether the user is working from a laptop, smartphone or other mobile device.

Healthcare organizations and financial institutions – because they tend to be highly transactional – may be particularly vulnerable to potential ADA accessibility litigation. For example, for consumers who use a hospital website to find a physician, look up services, identify locations – any such type of direct engagement – the information should be as accessible as if the consumer were entering the facility itself.

 

Enhancing Accessibility Enhances SEO

Making sure one’s website is accessible to people with disabilities not only protects against ADA-related litigation, it also enhances the search optimization of your site.

The basic idea of the internet has always been to provide information in as accessible a fashion as possible. By limiting accessibility, you run the risk of cutting off customers and potential markets. Thus, it’s important for organizations to follow best practices to ensure their websites’ accessibility is constantly maintained.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), the primary international standards organization for the internet, has published a series of web accessibility principles to help organizations keep their websites current.

 

P.O.U.R.

The thrust of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) can be remembered by using the acronym P.O.U.R.

P is for Perceivable. All digital content and user interface components should be presented to users in different ways to account for different means of perception.  For example, digital content should provide text alternatives to non-text content. Multimedia should have captions or other alternatives to explain the action that is taking place. Assistive technologies should be integrated where possible, so that meaning isn’t lost. Also, enabling users to see and hear – rather than just read – content is a plus. Consider offering transcripts of podcasts. If your website includes video, provide visual access to audio information through in-sync captioning. Also, don’t rely on color as a navigational tool or as the only way of distinguishing items.

O is for Operable. Websites should be designed so interface components and navigation is easily operable (e.g., via keyboard or mouse), and tagged to work with voice control systems. The interface should assist users in navigating and finding digital content, and also give users enough time to read and use it. Including a skip navigation feature can make it easier for automatic screenreaders to make sense of on-screen content.

U is for Understandable. Information about the user interface and its operation should be clear and understandable. For example, error messages should provide a clear explanation of the problem (Not just say “Error” or “Invalid field”). Digital content should also appear and operate in predictable ways. (In other words, try to make it as easy as possible for the user to find what s/he’s looking for.)

R is for Robust. Content should be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide range of user applications, including assistive technologies. Compatibility with current and future user tools should be an ongoing goal.

 

Conclusion

The internet’s continuing evolution as a primary source of commerce, entertainment, information and services has changed the way business, government and society operate. Those with disabilities may find that some websites don’t provide the level of access they need to partake of information, products or services that are presented on their websites.

Organizations, particularly those in healthcare, need to maximize their efforts to ensure that anyone, regardless of a disability, can easily navigate their websites and access the digital content they need. Doing so will help forestall ADA-related litigation. But it will also enhance the basic navigability and SEO compatibility of the website.

The Power of Pooches

Don’t Overlook Animals, Kids in Drawing Media

Never work with animals or children, goes the old show business saw.

The point is, you will be upstaged, even ignored, in favor of your cute or furry costars. But what might be anathema to a vaudeville performer, movie star or TV host can be a camera magnet for your organization’s community event. And in an arena where story and brand matter more than the individual, most healthcare communicators will happily cede the spotlight to the kids and/or creatures.

If You Want Press, Ignore Old Adages

Indeed, it pays to pull out all the stops if you’ve got something going on that involves animals or kids. A physical fitness program for youngsters, with gold, silver and bronze medals, can be a winner to a local TV station. And you’ll never bark up the wrong tree alerting media to a therapy dog recruitment or training session at your hospital, rehab center, or ambulatory care facility.

And if there’s anything more appealing than children and animals, it is their interaction with patients or seniors in the assisted living environment. Consider the potential of having kindergarteners making holiday crafts for veterans with elderly residents of your facility. Or inviting grandchildren and their pets to come for a special visit, complete with animal treats.

The Dog Days of Summer

The latter was an event held at the Lafayette active retirement community of Holy Redeemer Health System, one of SPRYTE’s clients. During its Dog Days of Summer Pup Parade, family members trotted their best friends in front of the center’s gathered residents, as an emcee introduced each animal and read its “biography” (“Rex loves sleeping at the foot of the bed, and will let you pet him under his chin all day…”). The well-attended event included doggy bags as gifts for the participating pups, canine-themed (but human-edible) snacks, and lots of kisses, licks and hugs. Along with highlighting the important role animals can play in the lives of seniors, some of whom have to give up beloved pets when they move into a facility, this was a ready-made, tug-at-the-heartstrings human interest story.

Is it any wonder events like this draw cameras? In this case, two local TV stations and a news radio station covered the parade.

Sell the Story, not the Fur

Be sure to let the event drive the cameras, not the other way around. Resist the urge to manipulate circumstances to put children or animals in a room. Instead, look for organic opportunities, and those that make sense from a seasonal or patient-focused standpoint. A mentoring program that allows children and seniors to interact monthly or quarterly during the school year is far more compelling than a one-and-done meet-and-greet.

Events created from whole cloth with no logical reason for being will be sniffed out by the media like a bloodhound on the trail of small prey. The Summer Pup Parade, which it is hoped will become an annual event, works because of the joy it brings the residents.

So take a look at what’s coming down the pike within your organization, and if kids or animals are involved, or make sense, go after media coverage with the tenacity of a junkyard dog. But remember: unless your spokesperson has the wit of a late night talk show host, don’t let him or her anywhere near a furry creature.