Managing pandemic influenza in general practice

Part C - Response

Communication and patient management

Last revised: 16 Dec 2019

Generally, if the practice does not have a designated communication coordinator, the pandemic leader and/or pandemic coordinator will implement the practice’s pandemic communication plan.

Ensure open, mutual communication between the practice team and patients, other staff, state and territory health departments, hospitals, local services (eg pharmacies), local council, laboratory networks, suppliers, and community services.

The practice can receive information through a variety of channels such as fax, email, web portals, SMS and radio announcements.50

The communication or pandemic coordinator should gather information regularly relating to:

  • key public health messages and advice
  • pandemic case definition and how to identify pandemic influenza
  • what services patients should access from the practice
  • what other services are available (eg flu clinics, fever and vaccination centres)
  • home quarantine, including how patients should monitor themselves and how they will be supported during this process.

The pandemic/communication coordinator should relay relevant information to:

  • the pandemic leader so that protocols can be revised to ensure best practice (eg modifying PPE protocols based on up-to-date information on transmission)
  • the practice team and patients through a variety of pre-arranged channels (eg meetings, notice boards, practice website, SMS, email campaigns, phone calls)
  • the community partners and networks.

General practices should aim to be a resource for the community – providing essential information about how people can stay well and what they should do if they are unwell.45 Aim to provide clear and accurate factual information as early as possible to avoid fear and anxiety, rumours and misinformation. Providing frequent and concise advice maximises the value and usability of the information.50

Inform patients about the practice’s policy for pandemics (eg delaying or rescheduling non-urgent routine appointments such as Pap smears and repeat prescriptions, availability of home visits, and referral to flu clinics). Display clear and appropriate signage to inform patients about any changes to patient flow at the front entrance.

When communicating with patients about the pandemic itself, there is a balance between providing too much and not enough information. Receiving appropriate amounts of information may improve adherence to infection control recommendations.51

Despite adequate communication with patients, they may not act in ways which are expected or desired. People respond more strongly to factors present in their everyday environment than to official messages about what a pandemic is and what they should do.52

Ensure open, mutual communication with staff. Hold regular practice meetings (face-to-face or via teleconferencing) so that staff can discuss all issues around the pandemic (including challenges, fears and stressors) and provide feedback on the practice plan. Staff may need to talk more privately about their issues as well.

Regularly acknowledging the efforts of staff during the pandemic is important but is often neglected when there are other pressing needs. Mutual support is seen as a key aspect of successful emergency management.

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