On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization classified the current global situation as a health crisis due to the spread and severity of the outbreak. (9)

Accurate and timely communication to your patients about the virus and disease can help to minimize misinformation, rumors, and fears surrounding the outbreak. We’ve summarized some key points to help you communicate and share information about the health crisis. This article will cover emergency risk communication, what and how to communicate, where to find reliable sources of information on public health, resources to share with patients, and how to optimize your Fullscript account.

What is emergency risk communication?

Risk communication can be defined as “any purposeful exchange of information about health or environmental risks between interested parties.” (4)

The objectives of risk communications include:

  • Informing your patients about the level of health or environmental risk
  • Explaining the significance of the risk to individuals
  • Notifying your patients of decisions, policies, or procedures that are intended to manage the health or environmental risk
  • Gaining or maintaining trust and credibility as a source of information related to the risk (4)

What to communicate

A pandemic is a disease that affects a large proportion of the population and has spread over a wide area. (3) The WHO director general specified that describing the situation as a “pandemic” doesn’t affect the WHO’s approach to the disease outbreak or what countries should be doing about it. (9) The WHO states that the pandemic is controllable through public health measures. (10)

Informing your patients on the meaning and implications of a pandemic, as well as providing instructions on how to prepare for a health crisis, is a good place to start.

Advise your patients to follow preventive measures based on credible sources. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has guidelines for what individuals should do before and during a health crisis. The recommendations during a health crisis are centered on how to prevent disease infection and the spread of the virus.

The current preventative guidelines advise the following:

  • Avoid contact with ill individuals
  • Distance yourself from others if you are sick
  • When sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Practice healthy habits, such as exercising, managing stress, eating a nutritious diet, staying hydrated, and getting sufficient sleep (5)

Reliable sources of information

Always refer to reliable sources of public health information when informing yourself or your patients. Some examples of credible sources include:

What not to communicate

The current health crisis is a rapidly-evolving and sensitive topic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently issued warnings to several companies that were promoting the sale of products (e.g., dietary supplements, foods, medical devices) with claims that they either prevent or treat the virus. Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for the infection. (7)

Promoting unsupported products or treatments may delay individuals from seeking appropriate medical care, as well as contribute to misinformation surrounding the topic. (7) When speaking to your patients about prevention or treatment, consider focusing on preventative measures, such as hygiene best practices and dietary, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations for immune support.

healthcare practitioner showing a patient information on an iPad

Communication about the situation should be early, empathetic, accurate, and effective. (1)

How to communicate

The WHO has developed a guide for Communicating Risk in Public Health Emergencies. (8) Recommendations found in the guide are outlined below.

Establishing trust

Building trust in your messages relies on several factors, including linking to relevant information and services, providing information that is understandable and timely, and using multiple platforms or channels of communication, (8) such as:

  • Your clinic or practice website
  • Social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
  • Emails sent to your patient list, which may include email communication through your EHR platform
  • Signs posted in-clinic or leaflets distributed in-person (6)

Communicating uncertainties to the public

Transparent communication involves sharing what is currently known and unknown about the health risk. For instance, there is currently no vaccine that can prevent the disease. (2)

Using consistent and accessible messaging

Do not use overly technical terms to explain risk or risk mitigation. Instead, promote practical actions or steps individuals can take. For example, sharing personal hygiene best practices provides your patients with actions they can take to limit transmission of the virus. (8)

Using social media

Social media is a useful forum to share information with the public and to view and respond to public concerns, questions, and rumors about the risk. Common social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. (8)

Developing a plan for communications

Planning should involve collaborating with stakeholders, which may include public services, health agencies, and potentially at-risk communities. (8)

Monitoring communications

Track and evaluate feedback on your communication in order to adjust communications and improve effectiveness of future messages. For example, you may want to keep track of questions you receive about disease prevention through social media, emails, and in-person, and put together an article or email that addresses frequently asked questions. (8)

Did you know?
The CDC suggests that communication about the current situation should be early to limit rumors and fear, empathetic to reassure and empower individuals, accurate based on facts and what is being done about the situation, and effective at building understanding and guiding individuals. (1)

hot tea with a lemon slice in it wrapped by a scarf

Advise your patients on preventative measures and self-care practices to follow if they get sick.

Optimize your Fullscript account

Here are several ways you can optimize your experience with the Fullscript platform to provide more efficient and effective care during this busy time.

Use protocols

Fullscript’s Integrative Medical Advisory team has curated evidence-based supplement protocols, which can be used as a foundation when developing treatment plans for your patients. For example, view the Fullscript cold and flu and respiratory care protocols. Find additional immune support protocols from our brand and influencer partners in the clinical protocol library.

Build catalog favorites and categories

Fullscript’s favorites feature allows you to organize your favorite products into categories. For example, you may find it helpful to build out an immune category to help you easily find immune-supportive products to add to your recommendations. Depending on your selected catalog permissions, custom categories can also provide your patients with a curated section of the Fullscript catalog to shop from. For more information, view the article Catalog Favorites & Categories.

It’s crucial to be mindful when naming your categories at any time, but especially during a health crisis. If your category has the name of a specific health threat in it — in this case, the virus — it can imply a proven solution to that threat, setting unrealistic expectations for patients. It’s important to be responsible when titling your category, using realistic and broad outcomes, like “boosting immune health” for example.

Share patient resources

These resources can be shared with your patients to inform them about the measures they can take to protect themselves. Fullscript’s Immune support handout, which explains the basics of the immune system and provides top lifestyle recommendations for immune support, is available to download and share as a document attachment in your Fullscript recommendation.

There are also various resources available from reliable health authorities, which include:

  • A handout developed by the CDC on preventing the spread of the virus if you are sick and a video on handwashing.
  • A variety of infographics published by the WHO that provide bite-sized pieces of information.
  • Awareness resources provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada, including factsheets and infographics to increase awareness about the disease.

In addition to sharing the above resources in your Fullscript recommendations, consider sharing them via email, social media, or by displaying them in-clinic.

Recommend similar products

With the increasing demand for immune-supporting supplements, we’ve seen some product shortages. While our team is working hard in collaboration with our supplier partners to maintain inventory, in some cases, products may be unavailable due to supply challenges across the entire industry. We encourage you to use our similar products feature to explore alternative brands or products.

The bottom line

Timely and accurate communication about the current global situation can help to limit fear and miscommunication. Empower your patients by communicating how they can protect themselves and others. Remember to refer to and share information from credible sources, such as public health authorities. Finally, follow the suggestions in this article to optimize your Fullscript dispensary in order to provide your patients uninterrupted access to the products you recommend during this time.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020a, February 11). Public health communicators. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020b, March 17). Prevention & treatment. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/
  3. Pandemic. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pandemic
  4. Renn, O., & Levine, D. (1991). Credibility and trust in risk communication. Communicating Risks to the Public, 175–217. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-009-1952-5_10
  5. U. S. Department of Homeland Security. (2020, March 16). Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.ready.gov/pandemic
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). CERC: Crisis communication plans. Retrieved from https://emergency.cdc.gov/cerc/manual/index.asp
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, March 9). Update: FDA and FTC warn seven companies selling fraudulent products that claim to treat or prevent the virus. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-update-fda-and-ftc-warn-seven-companies-selling-fraudulent-products-claim-treat-or
  8. World Health Organization. (2018a). Communicating risk in public health emergencies. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/risk-communication/guidance/download/en/
  9. World Health Organization. (2020b, March 11). WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on the virus – 11 March 2020. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/
  10. World Health Organization. (2020c, March 12). WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Mission briefing on the virus – 12 March 2020. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/