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10 Apr. 2019 | Comments (0)

How do you respond when someone publishes a story about you that isn’t true? Here’s how Mayo Clinic handled such a situation in August 2018 when CNN ran this: “Escape from the Mayo Clinic: Teen accuses world-famous hospital of ‘medical kidnapping.’”

According to the story, a teen’s family accused Mayo Clinic of holding their daughter against her will, denying requests for transfer to another hospital, refusing opioids despite severe pain, disrespecting the patient, and pursuing guardianship—none of which was true—while she was in rehabilitation after surgery for an aneurism. The truth: the patient’s mother was removed after escalating behavior with the hospital’s care team and the family was unwilling to follow discharge plans. Since the patient was non-verbal and unable to make medical decisions for herself and her parents were not there, Mayo Clinic asked the courts who could make such decisions.

The story escalated quickly among CNN channels, regional outlets that follow Mayo Clinic, and on social media. It was particularly egregious because it went against the hospital’s values of putting patients first. Because the situation was managed well, it didn’t negatively affect the hospital’s reputation or its relationship with CNN.

Here’s how the communications team handled the incident:

  1. Its first concern was the care team. Within hours of the story’s publication, the communications team sent the patient’s care team notes of leadership support and held listening sessions. Leaders visited the care team all week.
  2. It provided broader Mayo Clinic staff, patients, and other stakeholders updates and gave them context, Mayo Clinic’s view, correct information, and talking points so they could answer questions.
  3. The media team set the public record straight, responded to inquiries, and made sure anyone who covered the story had Mayo Clinic’s view.
  4. The social media team posted updates and responded to questions on both Mayo Clinic’s and CNN’s story feeds, provided influencers with information to share, and boosted social media ad responses.
  5. It also recorded a video interview with a physician to give the situation a human voice and posted updates on web pages for patients.
  6. The team made sure to show empathy and balance facts with the patient’s vulnerability.
  7. The hospital had a crisis management team and plan. It set up a war room for the week, with 12 to 15 employees who coordinated information and adjusted it according to new or changing data and the environment. All other work waited for this group of colleagues who were part of the crisis management team. At the same time, it was important for employees who were not involved in the crisis management team to focus on their regular communications work.
  8. It sent CNN a letter refuting their reporting and shared it publicly, which the network rebutted. Once the hospital saw CNN’s rebuttal attracted little attention, it decided a prolonged debate wouldn’t help and ceased pursuing the issue.
  9. It did a brand reputation survey that week and the following week and learned most people weren’t aware of the story and the majority who were believed the hospital. Quarterly media metrics also showed the story didn’t affect its reputation.

It recognized the difference between one reporter and the rest of a large organization—and still works with other journalists at CNN.

  • About the Author:Sheri Rothman

    Sheri Rothman

    Sheri Rothman is a senior writer at The Conference Board. She has also written for the Washington Post, Credit Union magazine, Bank Investment Marketing magazine, and numerous business websites and ne…

    Full Bio | More from Sheri Rothman


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