The session description for an education session at HIMSS14 is rather stark and blunt: “If you have not experienced a 100 percent Grade A bona fide public-affecting health care I.T. crisis, your day is coming. It will be something from which you cannot hide.”

Consequently, the I.T. leader and public relations/marketing staffs at any hospital need to be ready, says Andy Crowder, CIO at Maine Health. Anchored by Maine Medical Center in Portland, the organization had a rocky launch of its Epic electronic health records system in December 2012, with resulting negative media coverage. Seven months later, the incumbent CIO was out and Crowder was in and became a spokesperson for the organization as it continued to make improvements to the system.

Maine Health thought it had a robust communications plan in place at go-live but the problems overwhelmed the plan. In addition to overseeing the EHR and other initiatives, Crowder also improved communication to staff, management, the board and the community, and he needed help. The message he wants to send to other CIOs before they have a crisis: “I.T and marketing/PR need to be joined at the hip. You need an active communication plan and don’t have to go it alone.”

Steven Bennett, vice president at health I.T. recruiting firm Kirby Partners, will co-present with Crowder. He’ll talk of the need to be ready for anything at anytime, such as a major breach of protected information, the power grid going down, or a celebrity treated in ER and staff members peaking at the record. “There’s just so many crises today that could happen in an I.T. department.”

Adds Crowder: “You need to spend as much time thinking about things that don’t go well as much as those that have a positive outcome.” Bad communication makes a problem look worse. Look at the breach at retailer Target, he says. The number of affected customers kept growing and the company appeared to be unprepared to respond to events.

Education session 135, “Crisis Communication is Healthcare IT,” is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

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