The use of Facebook by general practices in Northern Staffordshire

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Case Study Summary
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Overview summary:
North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CCGs, with the support of the WMAHSN LTC Network and social enterprise company Redmoor Health, have been supporting their GP practices to use social media to engage with their patients. As a result of the programme, over 2/3rds of the practices are now regularly using social media, the most popular being Facebook. The topics discussed range from simple health messages to the publications of DNA data and consultations on appointment and telephone systems.
Challenge identified and actions taken :
The challenge is convincing general practice teams that it is in their best interests to have their own official Facebook landing page providing accurate and useful patient information individualised to the practice. Otherwise an unofficial page may be generated by the public (not necessarily registered patients) who access Facebook on their own devices and create a profile for the practice. These publicly created pages are then unmoderated by practices, usually containing negative unpleasant comments about the practice services, which the practice is unable to control. Unofficial pages can also be used to relay content not related to the practice, i.e. advertising businesses, which gives the mistaken impression that the advertisement has been endorsed by the practice.
Impacts / outcomes:
Once practices realised that an unofficial Facebook page had been set up they were keen to develop an official Facebook page. By owning an official page (or claiming an unofficial one) practices can increase the likelihood that their patients reach their official site which are listed higher than unofficial pages in searches. Establishment of Facebook has enabled general practices to increase engagement with their patient population by sharing useful patient information including opening times, services etc.

The practices engaged have also developed an effective communication channel. This was highlighted in the 2017 cyber attack which affected practices throughout the country – telephone lines were down, websites couldn’t operate and online bookings were also affected. Those practices with Facebook could send out information quickly to their patients with instructions to share across personal networks. As services came back online practice staff were accessing their practice’s Facebook page from home and posting updates to their patients.

When a video produced by the stroke team at University Hospitals North Midlands (UHNM) was posted across practice Facebook pages it received over 20,000 views in one weekend. A poster advertising a drop-in heart screening programme for young adults reached over 45,000 people in one weekend and sessions were fully booked within two days. A typical practice page engages around 200-1500 patients in a week, but this increases dramatically with posts that trigger significant patient interest.

Facebook is also now being used to recruit new members to practice Patient Participation Groups to enable those with difficulty in attending face to face meetings to become involved in more effective ways.

Some practices have also set up closed private Facebook groups for specific cohorts of patients who are able to discuss concerns with peers.

The review undertaken by the medical student has been accepted for publication by BJGP Online.
Supporting quote for the innovation from key stakeholders:
Seema Gater, Practice Manager Apsley Surgery, Stoke-on-Trent
“As a forward thinking practice we are keen to use social media to give patients a different way to interact with us. We wanted to provoke reaction and engagement and we have started to successfully tap into this by highlighting our monthly breakdown of DNA statistics to our patients though Facebook.”

Jane Cope, Practice Manager Goldenhill Surgery, Stoke-on-Trent
"We use Facebook as an opportunity to advertise and educate patients on seasonal topics, i.e. influenza vaccines in the winter, holiday vaccinations in the summer etc. and also other information that would be of benefit to patients."

As technology develops and more patients use the web to communicate, as a forward thinking practice, we see Facebook as a new innovative tool to communicate and educate patients."

A video has also been produced in which two PPG chairs discuss how they benefit from using social media:

The following articles have been published regarding social media:
Which local or national clinical or policy priorities does this innovation address:
This should list the NHSE priority areas that the project addresses. These will be used to ensure the case study is easily searchable on Atlas: - Care and Quality - Health and Well Being
Plans for the future:
As well as continuing to expand the network of Facebook practices, the pages that exist are being used to promote CCGs’ priority health messages and programmes. This includes signing patients up to Patient Online and engaging new parents on the future of maternity services in Staffordshire. By inviting parents to join a closed Facebook group, the CCGs have recruited 144 people to the engagement programme.

The North Midlands Breast Cancer Screening team is now using practice Facebook pages to promote their service and interact with patients to explore how the service can be improved and how non-attendance can be tackled.
Tips for adoption:
Embedding the use of Facebook into health and care engagement can have a huge impact on spreading positive messages and helping shape behaviour. It is not without risk though so there are some important considerations that need to be made:
  1. Training and support for frontline NHS staff
  2. Adoption of trustworthy, safe protocols
  3. Dedicated clinical time set aside to manage the regular engagement with patients
Once these are in place, the toolkits and support packages that have been developed in the West Midlands will support any frontline staff use social media to engage with patients. Click on the link below to access the Social Media Toolkit:
Contact for further information:
Marc Schmid
Project Lead
07736 008380
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