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Tufts Tackles Patient Safety With Talk-Bubbles

Kandace McLaughlin, for HealthLeaders Media, May 21, 2008

Click to view pdf version.A recent internal campaign has patients and professionals at Tufts Medical Center in Boston talking—about cartoon-style talk bubbles.

Like many other facilities, Tufts has run hand washing and other patient safety campaigns in the past, but none had the staying power needed to spark a change.

“Hospitals tend to crank out safety initiatives,” says Dan Dunlop, president of Jennings, an ad agency based in Chapel Hill, NC. “Tufts had done two prior hand-washing campaigns but they became part of the background very quickly.” The team wanted to create something that would stand the test of time by using varied messages. They also wanted something that was unique to the institution, he says.

“That was the reason why we chose [speech] bubbles,” says Dunlop. “We knew we wanted to avoid the cliché hand images because we wanted to be able to communicate other messages beyond hand hygiene down the road. The great thing about the bubbles is that they can carry any message we want. Six months from now we could focus on handwriting abbreviations.”

The campaign, which appears throughout the hospital in bathrooms and above soap dispensers and sinks, targeted not only employees, but also families and patients. “The bubbles resonated with all of us because they were so unique,” says Mary Sullivan Smith, Tuft’s vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “We wanted to level the playing field and create an environment where professionals could feel comfortable asking each other to wash their hands and where patients felt comfortable [asking] professionals to wash their hands.”

Collateral for the campaign included posters at entrances and in elevators, flyers explaining the initiative.

The tone of the messages is also unique. Most feature off-the-cuff and lighthearted statements and some even featured the faces of well-known colleagues. “It was a fun way to say that Tufts has embraced the campaign and that it has to be a part of the culture,” Dunlop says.

Since the campaign has launched research shows that hand washing compliance has increased dramatically.


Kandace McLaughlin is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. Send her Campaign Spotlight ideas at kmclaughlin@healthleadersmedia.com If you are a marketer submitting a campaign on behalf of your facility or client, please ensure you have permission before doing so.