Patient involvement: GP practices should not be scared of using Facebook

Social media can play an important role in promoting patient-centred care and improving practice's relationships with patients, writes Dr Ruth Chambers.

‘Facebook? It’s just used by teenagers to share pictures of their family and say what they had for tea.’ This is what, I suspect, most of my fellow clinicians would tell you if you asked about the social media channel.

But I firmly believe, if used properly, it can transform the relationship between GP practices and the patients they serve.

Using social media to promote patient care

Over the last few months, I have been championing a project that aims to show how social media such as Facebook can be used by clinicians and professional to promote person centred care.

We have held workshops across the West Midlands to introduce, train and hopefully develop staff in practices to use it as an engagement tool.

At each workshop, the same questions and comments were raised: ‘Isn’t Facebook just for young people?’; ‘When am I going to get time to do it?’; ‘Won’t it just lead to people posting negative stuff about the practice?’; ‘Most of my patients won’t have access to Facebook.’

But the reality is different. Latest stats show 85% of homes have access to the internet, more than seven in 10 adult internet users have a social media profile and the fastest growing smartphone market is the 65-plus age group. In 2013, 28.9m people accessed Facebook regularly. This is set to increase to 33m by 2018.

And rather than lecturing colleagues about how great Facebook is, we showed them some real life cases studies of what practices could achieve by using it.

How practices are using Facebook

Jenny Woodfint, practice manager at Belgrave Medical Centre in Stoke-on-Trent, was quite sceptical about Facebook, mostly because of time constraints. But through Facebook, the centre has been able to transform their patient participation group and attract new members who would normally not want to get involved. The group now Has more than 40 members.

Kate Sherwin, assistant practice manager at Birches Head Medical Centre and Hulton House Surgery also in Stoke-on-Trent, is another professional who has used Facebook to improve her practice's relationship with patients.

They were both interviewed as part of the project I am leading. You can see those interviews here and here.

I am pleased to say that the message is getting out there. We now have more than 30 practices in Stoke-on-Trent using Facebook, about half of all practices in the city. We get a weekly reach of around 700 patients on average per practice.

Digital technology is a top priority

The NHS sees digital technology as a top priority. Indeed, only last month, NHS England’s director of digital technology, Beverley Bryant, told the sustainable healthcare conference that all clinicians had to embrace digital technology and information.

The message was loud and clear: we have no option but to embrace technology to improve outcomes for patients.

Facebook and other forms of social media are cost effective tools we can use to meet this agenda. Indeed, the potential is huge. But professionals fear it. We shouldn’t let fixed ideas about what it is stop us exploring and exploiting that potential.

  • Dr Ruth Chambers OBE is a GP in Stoke-on-Trent and has recently been appointed chair of Stoke-on-Trent CCG

Photo: UNP

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