Should GP surgeries be using social media to communicate with their community?
Having not been a regular visitor to my GP’s surgery, I apparently wasn’t up to date with how things worked, so when my mum, for the first time in my adult life, asked for an out of hours Dr to visit, I was totally in the dark as what to do. Last time we needed out of hours help we called the on-call GP and he came out . But everything had changed and this was not a good time to have to start researching. Sure I’d heard of 111, but as everything I’d heard was dreadful I’d just assumed it must have died an appropriate death. After all who on earth wants to call a notoriously bad service when you are at your most vulnerable.
Anyway, I digress…. Then I started hearing friends up and down the country saying they don’t understand the appointments system and these experiences made me realise how important it is that there’s a more informal and regular mode of communication between GPs and their community.
There’s loads of great information at my GP’s surgery, but mostly I only go there if I’m ill, so how does my GP keep me up to date?
Wait, I’m a social media trainer, of course, GPs need Facebook I thought. This is a platform that is easy to use and very popular, with the British apparently being the 2nd most prolific users in Europe (Office for National Statistics).
When we hear news that…
“A 2 week waiting time to get to see a GP is standard”,
“Doctors will vote on whether to charge patients for GP appointments” and
“93 year old woman told to find a new GP”,
it ‘s not surprising that people are confused and more than a little worried.
So GPs communicating outwards to their community would be a great help. I don’t know about you, but our GPs are fantastic and I totally trust them, so I’d prefer to hear what they have to say rather than random scary news headlines.
I know that Facebook is mostly used by organisations for promoting their products and increasing sales and brand awareness, and that GPs don’t need more customers as such, but there are many examples of local government and public services using Facebook well for community engagement. So I started asking people what they thought about the idea of GPs having a Facebook page, and I listened to the responses.
These were the most common issues that came up – and my thoughts on each…..
We already have a website.
*I have been registered with my current GP for 18 years and I had no idea they had a website, let alone been there to find out information. I suspect I am not alone in that.
*Some GP surgeries that have a website think that is enough. It isn’t. And anyway a Facebook page is a different tool entirely. It can be linked to your website and it can ‘drive traffic’ there, but it has a very different role.
*A website is a fixed site that can often be complicated, or expensive, to update, whilst a Facebook page can easily and quickly be updated daily with the latest information that you want to get out there.
*If we are honest, GP surgery websites are also often not particularly attractive, or easy to navigate and mostly a bit crammed and wordy. On Facebook there can be a less formal tone and good use of images and upbeat messages.
*A Facebook page goes out to people where they are, whereas people have to go searching for your website, and so mostly don’t bother.
*Your Facebook page updates can be seen daily. It’s unlikely your patients will go on your website daily.
*A website is an announcement, whereas Facebook enables 2 way engagement and when your surgery is closed the page still enables communication.
Not everyone is on Facebook.
That is true, and in fact not everyone is on the internet, but Facebook is the most popular site across all ages. The over 45s is the biggest growing group and 1 in 5 over 65s are now on there. In 2013 Facebook claimed daily active UK users now number 24 million with 33 million unique individuals log in every month. So if someone isn’t on there the odds are good that a member of their family, or a friend, will be. For example my mum is on Facebook but not a regular user, however I am and so is my daughter, so when we see things that affect her we pass it on to her. That is the way it works, people find information on social media and they share it.
It takes too much time.
I know that there’s a lot said about people wasting hours on social media, and that may be true in many cases. And of course I fully understand that GP surgery staff are massively busy and can’t spend all day on social media. But actually once the page is set up and the strategy agreed and training complete, just 10 mins a day will give you a well run and up to date page, including scheduled posts to go out in the evening and weekends.
AND better still there’s plenty of evidence that it actually reduces the time spent on phone calls for simple information. So that 10 minute daily investment is easily gained back over time. For example in terms of viral outbreaks such as flu and novo-virus, Facebook is a great way of communicating to a lot of people and giving advice and reassurance without blocking the phone lines, thus reducing ‘avoidable contact time’. Though as Tim Lloyd from the Department of Health quite rightly pointed out,
“social media’s primary function is not to help in cost-cutting measures, but to improve communication and sharing. Any financial saving is a bonus.”
What about confidentiality?
Obviously a Facebook page isn’t going to be used to post an update about Mrs Jones’s varicose veins, or little Jimmy’s bed wetting episodes.
You can be clear about what the page is for and is not for. For example it isn’t for making appointments, or for diagnosis. But if people want to ask for information, such as “what day is baby clinic?” etc, that is their choice and by answering these simple questions for 1 person you are answering them for many and keeping that information circulating.
In the unlikely event that there is misuse of the page, if you manage it daily you can also delete and deal with comments promptly.
In my opinion, if you are going to try out social media then start with this platform as it is easy to use and popular. Plus it has some great tools and easy to monitor statistics.
When was the last time you monitored how many people had actually read a poster on the surgery wall?
It doesn’t replace other forms of communication, and nor should it. It is still important that people know that they can phone, but for 10 minutes a day it is a good addition to your communication tools and can significantly improve community engagement, enabling you to ask questions and gain much needed feedback.
Four great reasons to get a page….
1. You communicate with people on the platforms that they are familiar and comfortable with.
2. It enables feedback and 2-way communication, thus strengthening relationships and trust.
3. It is a free tool.
4. It reaches new or disengaged audiences, especially young people.
“The biggest benefit is the ability to get a message out really quickly to a large number of people and have it cascaded
out.” Benjamin Welby, stakeholder engagement officer, Hull CC
To me there is no good reason why GP surgeries should not be on Facebook if they understand what they are doing, but there are a whole heap of reasons for making use of this great resource to improve communication and community engagement.
What do you think? How does your GP surgery communicate? I’d love to get your feedback on this issue, so please do leave a comment below.
Jane Binnion delivers seminars and training on all things social media. If you would like to talk to Jane about working with your organisation email Jane @www.janebinnion.com or call her on 01524 752723
And here are 2 examples of active GP’s pages…
Thought provoking as usual… Personally I would use such a page, information such as baby clinic, opening times, prescription line, etc. (which seem different every week at my local surgery) could be updated there and if I knew to look there it would reduce the amount of time wasted by staff and patients waiting on phone lines or in line at the surgery. Now that we have Clinical Commissioning Groups perhaps they could provide some of this function?
Thanks for your comment Sylvia. I agree with you, I would also use the page to check out what’s going on at our surgery. x