The value of transparency in a crisis

Transparency is a way to build loyalty and garner advocates for your brand. Being transparent and straightforward in any situation will more likely earn respect even if your community takes offense to what has occurred.

Johns Hopkins has a wonderful reputation for providing outstanding health care. They also are no strangers to the social media world. In 2010, when a shooting happened at the hospital, they turned to social media with regular updates.

Their efforts were admirable, to say the least, and appeared as a well-coordinated effort even during a crisis situation that was unfolding by the minute. Now, Johns Hopkins faced another crisis, and once again their response can serve as a model for transparency in social media.

Social media accelerates the crisis management timeline

As a media relations professional, I’ve experienced the behind-the-scenes efforts during a crisis for a hospital. As an extremely conservative and cautious industry, this is usually not something that is done in minutes, but more likely hours. Yet in today’s world, social media has given rise to the 24/7 news cycle. Media outlets and citizen journalists are posting and reading information and breaking news all the time, wherever they are.

There have been times that we have opted to not post information about a crisis situation on our Facebook page or Twitter feeds. It was felt that this was making it too public and only those who inquired about a situation would be provided with a statement. I do understand that approach, yet it’s not the transparent one.

Johns Hopkins and transparency

Such is the recent case with Johns Hopkins. Recently, they chose to post about a very sticky situation with one of their physicians. A physician clearly breached patient privacy and then that physician committed suicide.

Johns Hopkins’ approach? They posted it for everyone to see right on their Facebook page:

“On Feb. 4, 2013, after being alerted by an employee, Johns Hopkins security department initiated an investigation about concerns involving Nikita Levy, M.D. It was determined that Dr. Levy had been illegally photographing patients with his personal photographic and video equipment and storing those images electronically. Tragically, today we learned that Dr. Levy apparently has taken his own life.

Any invasion of patient privacy is intolerable. Words cannot express how deeply sorry we are for any patient whose privacy may have been violated. We continue to work closely with the Baltimore Police Department and will assist them in any way possible.

We have set up a call center for Dr. Levy’s patients and are also offering them counseling. The number is 855-546-3785.”

Short, sweet and to the point. The post described what happened, explained that privacy breaches are not tolerated, and stated what they were doing about the situation. You don’t get any more transparent than that, nor can you approach the situation any better.

The comments they received were obviously mixed, especially since some of them were posted by patients. Overall, however, there were nearly 90 “likes” on the post — which to me seems to show that people appreciate the openness.

Do I think they helped build advocates for their brand? Absolutely. I am so impressed with how they handled the situation, and I hope we can rise to the same level of transparency when I find our organization in its next crisis.

What about you? Do you agree with their approach? If not, what would you have done differently?


The original post, “Being transparent in a crisis – thumbs up to Johns Hopkins” by Nancy Jean was published on Just My Two Cents
“Hospital” illustration by Actam (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Nancy Jean

Nancy Jean

Senior Media Relations Officer at Lifespan, Inc.
Nancy Jean is a communications and media relations professional with over 25 years of experience in the health care industry. For nearly 12 years, she has served as a senior media relations officer for the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island. In her current role, she launched the system’s social media efforts in 2009 and now manages it for five hospitals and a women's medicine practice. She is a mom to two rescue dogs, an avid reader, and a diehard Red Sox fan.
  • Anneliz Hannan

    Excellent and classy. Information concise, transparent as to level of grievance, action taken and empathy for consumer. The only addition I could possibly suggest is what action the institution will put in place in terms of prevention going forward or what systems they have in place that brought this to light so swiftly. Either way it serves as trust factor as to the institutions commitment to privacy.

    • Nancy Cawley Jean

      Thanks so much for your comment Anneliz! I agree about the trust factor completely — and an excellent point in terms of preventing in the future! Although as you know, we can take many steps to prevent things, and they happen anyway.

  • Nancy Cawley Jean

    I’d just like to thank everyone who tweeted out this post!!! Really appreciate it, and glad you liked it!

  • Ryan Biddulph

    What a skilled way of handling a difficult situation. Being transparent makes you stand out from the crowd of people who are so concerned about their online rep that they lie to cover up mistakes 😉

    Thanks Nancy!


    • Nancy Cawley Jean

      Totally agree, Ryan! Thanks for reading!

  • Andrea Naomi

    Awesome post Nancy. I agree transparency is key and the fact that John’s Hopkins posted the update for the world to see is an excellent way to avoid any unnecessary speculation. The truth is what it is and ultimately there’s no way to avoid it.

    • Nancy Cawley Jean

      Thanks so much, Andrea! I love your “it is what it is” comment. SO true. Why try to hide it, right?