Christine Elmer shows how a commitment to communication helped Cabrini Health achieve a critical accreditation… and global recognition.
Accreditation is a big deal in Australian health services – without it, a health service/hospital cannot operate. Cabrini, like other Australian health services, undergoes an accreditation survey by external auditors every three years. It is a rigorous assessment process whereby auditors visit our three acute hospitals to assess whether we are meeting the national standards. They can stop any staff member at random to ask questions and observe their work practices.
In 2013, there were significant changes to the accreditation assessment process, with the organisation to be assessed against 10 new national standards. We were also required to fulfil 35 requirements from the previous accreditation survey in 2010. Each of the new standards were complex and contained extensive criteria assessed on a strict met/unmet basis.
Our goal in development and execution of Together we can meet the Standards: accreditation at Cabrini was to support Cabrini in being successfully accredited by creating staff awareness and understanding of the new national standards as well as building support for required changes to practices and processes in order to help prepare staff for the accreditation survey.
We identified three main stakeholder groups: non-clinical staff; clinical staff including nurses and doctors (not necessarily Cabrini employees). Common issues that needed to be addressed included lack of awareness of the new standards and understanding of relevance to individual day-to-day roles and the information/communication needs among each of the stakeholder groups.
We faced a range of communication challenges including a lack of knowledge of the 10 new national standards against which the organisation would be assessed, short time frames, difficulty in reaching a large proportion of staff who are highly mobile as well as the large number of change projects being implemented simultaneously.
The communication strategy and action plan developed and implemented to support Cabrini’s successful accreditation highlighted the importance of collaboration from many areas of the organisation to achieve a successful result under challenging circumstances. Internal communication was represented on the accreditation steering committee (which included the CEO and four executive directors) and therefore communication was an integral and strategic part of decisions, plans and discussions related to Cabrini’s accreditation effort – rather than an afterthought. This was supported by an accreditation implementation committee formed with managers from all relevant departments.
Specific communication responsibilities were written into the committee terms of reference in relation to cascading communication material to staff and providing feedback as to how it was received. This increased engagement and support for the change projects, clarified management roles and expectations and ensured there were measures in place to ascertain levels of staff awareness and understanding. The committees agreed on specific project timelines to ensure a coordinated focus on specific standards and change projects.
Being awarded an IABC Gold Quill Special Award brought a great sense of pride and recognition for the communication efforts undertaken to support Cabrini’s successful accreditation. It was evidence that the marketing and community relations team at Cabrini, in particular former Internal Communication Manager Rebecca McIntyre, was capable of, and doing, excellent work worthy of recognition by international industry standards. Ranking among the top five of 750 entries for the award was humbling.
Measurement and evaluation are important aspects for a successful IABC Gold Quill entry, so considering a practical approach to these aspects at the time of planning their communication program is essential.
I would also recommend that entrants ask a colleague internally (or an external peer) to review their entry prior to submitting it, ensuring it is easy to understand, does not assume any knowledge of the organisation, sector or project (on the part of the judges) and is free of jargon.
As practitioners, we can become quite close to our subject matter, so a review by a peer who has not been closely involved in the project is invaluable. If you think you have a worthwhile piece of work or project to enter, go for it.
Christine Elmer is Director of Marketing and Community Relations at Cabrini Health.