Engaging a general practice population through a PPG Facebook page
When its Patient Participation Group could no longer meet due to the pandemic, Benbecula Medical Practice used its Facebook page to engage patients in discussions about services.
Benbecula Medical Practice set up a Facebook page in August 2014, at the same time as its Patient Participation Group started. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Patient Participation Group stopped meeting and staff realised that they needed to communicate with their practice population about what was happening in the practice, provide information relating to local health services, share good public health messages and to hear from patients.
What we did
The practice Facebook page was already being used by the community to keep up-to-date with what was going on, services provided by the surgery, and any issues with local medical care. It was a natural progression during the pandemic for the practice to use the Facebook page for engagement. Staff encouraged patients, via Facebook posts, to get involved in discussing what was happening with local services. It was also used to share local and national involvement opportunities such as survey links. Patients were also encouraged to raise questions and topics that they would like to see covered.
Anyone who is a member of the Facebook page can post items of interest. Practice partners and the practice manager are the social media moderators and guidelines have been developed to support group members to write a good post.
What worked well
The practice has a population of 2,300 patients. At the start of the pandemic, the membership of the Facebook page was around 350 patients. By July 2020 this had increased to over 600 patients, with 575 patients actively engaged with the page during that month.
For various reasons the practice's Patient Participation Group foundered, but the Facebook page has gone from strength to strength. Whenever anything new comes along, for example, new services, the practice can post this to the Facebook page.
Patients have been offering support to each other through their active engagement and more than a few have commented that they have been able to access support via the Facebook posts. Patients have been encouraged to share any ideas of topics that they would like to be raised. Some of the topics covered have included pain management, face masks, hand hygiene, money, exercise at home, safeguarding children and domestic violence. Patients have also been encouraged to ask questions, which have included questions about services being resumed and enquiries about flu jabs.
Patients have shared their thoughts on the resumption of services and clinical reviews proposals, as well as the use of the House of Care model, developed by Alliance Scotland. As services restart, the practice will use the House of Care model for managing the clinical reviews of people with long term health problems such as asthma, diabetes, COPD, heart disease etc. This will mean that blood results and other information will be sent to patients before their appointment, which will help to ensure that patients are better prepared for their review and more able to decide the goals of their care. One patient added, "Fantastic initiative! Congratulations! Especially – the idea of video consultation."
Patients have also shared their thoughts on a range of topics, such as their top lock-down tips and how the practice can support older patients who are currently unable to contact the practice. The Facebook page contains a wealth of helpful and useful resources. During lockdown, a group member developed a poster to brighten up the noticeboard within the practice.
At the start of the pandemic, a “Hello! If you are self-isolating, I can help.” card was shared and Facebook page members were asked for their thoughts on whether this card would be useful locally as well as suggestions on how the card could work across the practice population. The post resulted in a number of volunteers coming forward to explore how it could be coordinated locally, including the distribution of cards. In addition, group members were asked for their views to help to shape the community nursing services to take on new responsibilities for services such as wound care and the vaccination services, in light of the new GP contract.
The feedback from patients about the use of the use of the Facebook page demonstrates that it has been a valuable support to many over the last few months:
"Can I just send a big thank you to Doctor Dawson for all the useful information being shared on this page at this unsettling time for us all. This page is great for sharing information with all patients and the community as a whole. I am sure Dr Dawson and all the practice staff are very busy at normal times but more so at this time and to take time out to keep us all informed via social media is very much appreciated. I just wanted to acknowledge the efforts being made and show my appreciation to you all. Thank you."
"Thank you for taking the time to do this. All important topics."
"Thank you Dr Dawson much appreciated."
"Great advice and some very useful links there."
There have been a couple of challenges emerging recently. As the pandemic continues, and with possible fatigue setting in, keeping the posts fresh, encouraging and varied has been getting harder. Patients are also posting less, although there is still a good number of likes for each post. The most liked post recently was when Dr Dawson shared her pro-vaccination stance, which was from the heart. Posts from the heart get more response than circulating links. Keeping people engaged is sometimes tricky and there is not a fixed framework for this; it was a gut instinct to build on the existing Facebook page.
In the future, the Medical Practice will discuss proposed content of the Facebook page at staff meetings and staff will be encouraged to contribute to content and topics. Shortly, there will also be a focus on the weekly updates posted by NHS Western Isles, as the Medical Practice have found these to be useful.
For people who do not have access to Facebook, or prefer not to use this method, patients can still contact the practice by phone or in person to share their views/experiences of services.
Dr Kate Dawson (Benbecula Medical Practice)