The use of social media in General Practice can be both a rewarding and risky business. Rewarding in the sense of getting valuable preventative health advice directly into the homes of patients via their social media accounts. Rewarding also by creating opportunities such as closed Facebook groups for PPGs or patient groups relating to specific conditions. In Stoke-On-Trent, one particular practice has over 45 Facebook PPG members who operate alongside a PPG of 10 face-to-face members. The Facebook PPG group does not want to attend face-to-face meetings and the face to face group does not use Facebook. By using this method the practice has a diverse PPG membership offering support and advice on practice business.
There are risks however. If not considered as part of a wider engagement strategy, the use of social media can be time consuming and damaging to reputation. If staff aren’t trained and the use of social media taken seriously, patients can look upon the social media profiles as amateurish. Across the West Midlands, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network is offering practices the opportunity to learn from the work that has taken place in Stoke-on-Trent by providing access to their training programme and toolkit.
Here are five helpful tips on how practices can get the most out of their social media:
- be clear on which staff will manage your accounts and ensure they are trained. Once trained, staff will be familiar with useful tips such as using the scheduling tool in Facebook which enables posts to go out at peak times rather than when staff are at work. The role of managing the accounts should be spread across at least two members of staff to ensure that content is regularly updated. We suggest the pages take up no more time than 10 minutes three times a week.
- Don’t get into a row online. Using Stoke-on-Trent’s example, we have engaged with thousands of patients. A handful of posts have been difficult but this is far outweighed by positive posts. It is important when engaging with negative posts that responses are simple and constructive. If a patient has made a specific complaint they need to be referred to normal complaints procedures. Belgrave Medical Centre, in Stoke-On-Trent has embedded the use of social media into day-to-day practice business and ensured that complaints are handled offline.
- Be clear on what your account is used for. If your practice is using Facebook then be clear that the page is used for practice information and updates and not booking appointments. You will receive some messages to this effect from time to time but these should simply be pointed in the right direction.
- Be creative. Using social media provides a fantastic opportunity to creatively get important health messages out to the public. Some practices in Stoke-On-Trent are producing GP self-care tutorial videos on conditions such as asthma and stroke. Other practices are publishing DNA information to spark discussions about the cost of people missing appointments.
- Use Facebook groups. Whether these are private or public, Facebook groups are an invaluable method of getting information out to patients with common interests as well as developing peer-to-peer support. With access to broadband and smartphone ownership higher than ever and set to grow, social media use continues to grow in tandem. Facebook engagement with GP practices is most popular amongst 35-55 age group and more patients aged over 55 use Facebook to engage with their GP Practice than the under 20s. Social media is part of life and as such should be treated as an invaluable channel through which GP Practices can communicate.
For further tips on using social media please visit www.digitalhealthsot.nhs.uk