The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in rewriting the proverbial “playbook” for all organizations. Information has been in a constant state of fluidity since the pandemic began and employees had to depend on myriad sources (from scientific journals to Twitter) to keep themselves updated.

The COVID-19 pandemic made a convincing argument to employers of having a robust and sound communication strategy to their employees. At Yale New Haven Health, an Incident Command System for Pharmacy was quickly established and one of its key components was communication.

The responsibility of this action team was managing internal and external stakeholder communication, staying ahead and providing frequent updates, and developing effective ways of reaching out to nearly 900 pharmacy employees. The team adapted a multichannel approach to ensure employees are connected on and off the health system network.

E-mail, direct manager communication, and weekly updates were already established means of communication. Access to email on a home computer, direct manager communication for remote workers, and timely messaging were some of the challenges identified with the current process.

The team introduced a new digital messaging tool to ensure connectivity in communication. The goal was unified and standardized messaging through all channels and maximizing outreach.

Yale New Haven Health partnered with a mobile engagement firm who had the ability to proactively deliver 1:1 member experience. The program was designed to increase reach, captivate and engage the pharmacy employees.

It works on the basic concept of clicking into a hyperlink in a text message which then takes the user to a customized PHI-enabled web message. The message provides variety of ways to layer information suited to the needs of the sender as well as the receiver.

Information can be layered based on the message content in different formats in the same message. A video, a hyperlink, a 1-click phone number for the pharmacy COVID-19 hotline, and meditation sessions were some of the elements of layering into a message. The communications team decided to send the message on a weekly cadence at a particular set time, with information dissemination through various channels occurring at regular intervals.

The most important requirement for this program was obtaining a master list that contained the name of the employees and their cellular numbers. The second important requirement was the ability to draft the message in the platform.

With adequate training and guidance, pharmacy personnel were able to draft messages using the vendor’s software. An initial message was released with an address from the chief pharmacy officer to all employees about COVID-19 response in an embedded video format.

Subsequent weekly message included update communication, answers to questions and suggestions from employees regarding safety, clinical and drug use policy, operations, specialty and retail, and staffing. The text message was delivered to all employees on a weekly cadence on Fridays.

The frequency and day of the week was decided by the communication action team as the text would serve as another avenue for employees to receive information prior to the weekend.

After each text message was sent, the communications action team reviewed all responses received by employees through the survey that was embedded in the text. Each question was broken down based on the respective categories of employee safety, clinical and drug use policy, operations, specialty and retail, and staffing. Chiefs of each section then provided a response to each question and subsequent weekly text messages embedded the responses within the message.

Metrics on how many employees opened and viewed the response for each section in the text were gathered as a means to identify which type of information is of most importance to employees.

The first introductory message resulted in a 63% click percent. Subsequent messages had a 58.85% click percentage, with employee safety, staffing, and operations as the most top 3 clicked items. Additional messages had a 26.05% click percent for updates on staffing, drug use policy, and employee safety, a 31.94% click percent on messages from the vice president and messaging on operations and clinical/drug use policy, and a 35.99% click percent on messages from the vice president, clinical/drug use policy, and employee safety/resiliency.

Areas of improvement include disseminating adequate communication to employees that a text message sent from leadership will be forthcoming because a number of employees perceived the first couple messages as spam. Additionally, having a master phone list that is regularly updated is vital to ensure all employees receive the same information and are able to see responses to their questions.

Use of a new method of communication during this pandemic was a pharmacy system effort to unify and standardize messaging through various channels.

About the Authors
Vinay Sawant, RPh, MPH, MBA, Director, Specialty and Retail Pharmacy Services, Yale New Haven Health

Ayse Hursid, PharmD, Pharmacy Operations Supervisor, Children's Hospital and Women's Services, Yale New Haven Health

Osama Abdelghany, PharmD, MHA, BCOP, Associate Director, Oncology Pharmacy, Yale New Haven Health

Terri Sue Bukowski, Pharm D, CSP, Associate Director, Specialty Pharmacy Services, Yale New Haven Health