Managing pandemic influenza in general practice

A guide for preparation, response and recovery
7.5 Communication
☰ Table of contents

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, two-way communication channels between the pandemic team and patients, other staff, state and territory health departments, hospitals, local services (eg. pharmacies), local council, laboratory networks, suppliers, and community services.

Throughout the pandemic, the best source of up-to-date information for the practice will be the Department of Health and state and territory health departments. The RACGP, Primary Health Networks, and emergency services will also be valuable sources of information. This information needs to be streamlined to avoid duplication, confusion and overload.48 The practice can receive information through a variety of channels such as fax, email, web portals, SMS and radio announcements.52

The communication or pandemic coordinator should gather information 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.

This is an ongoing process. Depending on the nature of the pandemic and the stage of the outbreak, this information may need to be updated daily.

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.

Be aware of fear and anxiety, rumours and misinformation in staff and patients. 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.50 Aim to provide clear and accurate factual information as early as possible. Providing brief advice frequently maximises the value and usability of the information.52

7.5.1 Communicating with patients

Inform patients about the practice’s policy for pandemics (eg. delaying or rescheduling non-urgent routine appointments such as Pap smears, repeat prescriptions, 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.53

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.54

7.5.2 Communicating with staff

Ensure open, two-way 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.

  1. Weeramanthri TS, Robertson AG, Dowse GK, et al. Response to pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza in Australia – lessons from a state health department perspective. Aust Health Rev 2010;34:477–86.
  2. Lee A, Chuh AA. Facing the threat of influenza pandemic – roles of and implications to general practitioners. BMC Public Health 2010;10:661.
  3. Pearce C, Shearer M, Phillips C, et al. Views of GPs and practice nurses on support needed to respond to pandemic influenza: a qualitative study. Aust Health Rev 2011;35:111–15.
  4. Etingen B, LaVela SL, Miskevics S, Goldstein B. Health information during the H1N1 influenza pandemic: did the amount received influence infection prevention behaviors? J Community Health 2013;38:443–50.
  5. Tooher R, Collins JE, Street JM, Braunack-Mayer A, Marshall H. Community knowledge, behaviours and attitudes about the 2009 H1N1 Influenza pandemic: a systematic review. Influenza Other Respir Viruses 2013;7:1316–27.