The past year of the coronavirus has meant working on an almost non-stop basis for Asko Järvinen, Head of Infectious Diseases at HUS. Many of his working days have begun at the hospital and ended at a TV studio.
“Whenever there is a situation that threatens the health of the entire population, communication becomes increasingly important. We had experience of this with the swine flu and ebola outbreaks,” says Järvinen.
Liaising with the media took up a considerable percentage of Järvinen’s time last year, partly out of choice, since this allowed his colleagues more time to deal with patients.
Communication is a tool for managing hospital operations
Communication plays a vital role in quelling the coronavirus pandemic, because reliable information can influence human behavior. Also, a sense of security is created by telling people frankly that treatment is being provided. In a time of crisis, this is by no means self-evident.
“Communication is a tool for managing hospital operations,” Järvinen summarizes.
He points to background and context as cornerstones of successful communication.
“In Finnish society, it is difficult to get people to follow your advice if you do not explain why. This is certainly the case with various coronavirus recommendations. When people believe you, they do comply.”
Media live in the moment
Regarding working with the media, Järvinen points out a few things. He feels that the media have uncritically provided a public forum for people from various fields to comment on the coronavirus situation who do not necessarily have the expertise to do so. This can easily create confusion.
“Also, the media very much live in the moment and rarely see beyond the tips of their toes. They report on where we are right now but often say nothing about how we are going to move forward from here. However, they have raised their sights a bit now that vaccinations have begun.”
Järvinen also refers to the conflicts and adversarial language manifesting themselves in social media in particular, which is particularly unhelpful in the midst of a crisis.
When the heat is on, you just keep going
How can someone cope with a highly demanding workload in a situation that has now lasted a year?
“When the heat is on, you just keep going. I am sure that this is true of all of our personnel: when you feel that you are needed, you find the strength to go on. When it’s all over, I hope that we can collectively feel satisfied and proud of a job well done,” says Järvinen.
He points out that although some HUS employees appear in the media, the real work is done at hospitals.
“Someone once said to me that we have circus horses and we have workhorses.”