Ten Things Grey’s Anatomy Taught Me About Communication

I tried to take off my PR hat.  I really did.

But as I binged on old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, glaring communication gaffes kept slapping me in the face.  Although Seattle Grace has some of the most talented fake surgeons on the planet, they really suck at communication.  Well, some of them.

Here are some things I learned from all of those hot surgeons and nurses.

  1.  Seattle Grace needs a crisis communication plan.  Holy crisis, batman! Disasters are everywhere in Seattle!  Plane crashes, mass shootings, sinkholes, ferry accidents, VIP patients….you’d think they’d learn by now!  Hospitals cannot function without a crisis communications plan and media training.  Seattle Grace needs a team of folks gathering information, another team handling the media, and another team communicating with patients’ families.  Designate a spokesperson and establish clear talking points.  After each crisis, the hospital should also conduct a postmortem to see if the plan should be tweaked.  Have any of them ever heard of HIPAA?  How has the hospital survived this long?
  2. The characters don’t actively listen.  It happens in nearly every episode.  Meredith vents to Cristina about her terrible day, and Cristina responds by lamenting her own life problems.  They don’t listen to each other at all.  This is a regular theme in the show.  Wouldn’t their lives be smoother if they just listened to one another?
  3.  Don’t fire your staff via email.  Remember when Seattle Grace merged with another hospital?  Chief Webber had to let some doctors and nurses go, and he thought the most effective way to break the news was to send an email.  Yeah, that went over really well.  The hospital got sued by a pregnant nurse for wrongful termination.  Face-to-face communication is the only way to fire someone.
  4. Shonda Rhimes nailed diversity and inclusion.  I absolutely love the myriad of characters, ethnicities, backgrounds and sexual orientations featured on Grey’s Anatomy.  Shonda accurately represents the audience she serves, and it doesn’t feel forced.  I only have one gripe….
  5. Sexism is alive and well.  Although the lead character is a strong female, most of hospital management is male.  Chief of Surgery, Head of Neurosurgery, Head of Plastics, Head of Trauma Surgery, and notable members of the hospital board are all men.  Remember when Preston Burke received a prestigious award when Cristina Yang did most of the work?  Or how about the time Derek Shepherd took credit for Meredith’s idea to treat brain tumors with a virus (It was dubbed the Shepherd Method!).  I’m only on Season Eight.  Perhaps I’ll see more female management as I continue to watch.  Fingers crossed!
  6. Distractions are killers.  Dr. April Kepner was doing a routine exam on a fire victim when she was distracted by a man with an ax sticking out of him.  The distraction threw her off, and she forgot to check the patient’s throat, which was filled with soot.  As a result, the patient died.  Distractions can also kill a message.  That’s why we have to consider them when forming a communications plan.
  7. Good interpersonal communication skills are a necessary.  How many times have we witnessed surgeons deliver the bad news of a patient’s death?    Meredith Grey and Izzy Stevens show calm and compassion with bereaved family members.  These conversations could go terribly wrong without strong interpersonal communication skills.
  8. Information flow can be complicated.  Critical information must flow through many layers at Seattle Grace, and I would love to see some sort of “flow chart.”  Although I’ve never worked at a hospital, I think it’s safe to assume effective, two-way communication MUST occur at MANY levels…from doctors to nurses, attendings to residents, residents to interns, and most importantly, medical staff to patients.  One kink in the communication chain can be disastrous.
  9. Seattle Grace Needs a social media policy. Remember when Dr. Bailey decided to live-tweet surgeries willy-nilly? (Again, do these doctors know about HIPAA?)  I swear, I started to yell at the screen.  Social media can be your company’s greatest gift, but it can also go terribly wrong.  Before Bailey live-tweets another appendectomy, Seattle Grace needs to hire a PR Director to establish very strict social media guidelines.
  10. Tell your loved ones how you feel.  Life is short, and we always think we have more time.  Tell those important to you how much you love them.

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