Eastern Health: A case study on the need for public trust in health care communications

  • Heather Pullen Hamilton Health Sciences
Keywords: Health Communication, Crisis Communication, Issues Management, Newfoundland, Labrador, Information Openness, Open Data, Transparency,


The reputation of a large health care organization in Canada’s easternmost province, Newfoundland/Labrador, was shaken by a three-year controversy surrounding decisions made by leaders of the organization not to disclose that errors had been made in one of its laboratories. For breast cancer patients, the presence or absence of hormone receptors in tissue samples is vital since it often changes the choice of treatment — a choice that can have life-or-death implications. Although Eastern Health learned of its errors in May 2005, it was not until five months later, when media broke the story, that the organization started informing patients. In May 2007, court documents revealed that 42 percent of the test results were wrong and, in the interim, 108 of the affected patients had died. This case study reviews the impact on Eastern Health’s reputation and highlights the communication issues raised by the organization’s reluctance to release information.

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