An Introduction to Social Media for GP Practices

Many Practices Managers are discussing whether or not they should promote their Practices on Social Media platforms. With the NHS, CCGs and CQC now expanding into the social media sphere it seems like a logical step for GP Practices. I know the glitz and glamour of social media marketing is appealing with all the retweets, hash tags, shares, news and instant celeb gossip. It can’t be helped - we all want to know what our favourite celebrity is eating for dinner or who our ex is now dating. But what it really drills down to is “How will my practice use it?”.

Which social media platform is best for a GP Practice?

With all the different social media platforms out there it’s difficult to decide which one is best for your practice. Here’s a quick run through of the top 4:

  • Twitter: Twitter is probably the easiest social media network to set up. Unlike Facebook you don’t require an existing account to set one up. You can be up and running within an hour. Twitter is mainly about status updates called Tweets. You can re-tweet updates from people / organisations you follow and that you as a practice find. You make friends through following people and organisations and they can follow you back. Twitter is a great source of news.
  • Facebook: Facebook is arguably one of the most popular social media channels. To setup a page for your practice you already have to be a pre-existing Facebook member as you will log into the Practice Facebook page via your personal account. Instead of friends and followers you are chasing the allusive “likes”. It’s likely that a good proportion of your patient list is on Facebook so it’s probably your best bet for rapid growth.
  • Google+:  Google+ is the social media platform developed by Google. Google+ revolves around circles of friends, acquaintances and interests. Google+ adopts the same follow principle as twitter. You can customise your circles to whatever you want them to be. Google+’s display and profile layout is very similar to Facebook. The only negative to Google+ is that not many people are actively using it.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the largest Business Networking social media platform in the world. LinkedIn is a great way to stay in contact professional people. Probably not the best platform to speak to patients but definitely something to keep in mind.

What are the positives of social media for a GP Practice?

From a marketing angle social media outlets are twofold. Firstly social media allows you to interact with your customer i.e. your patients; you can react to things in the news, share health advice and communicate practice information and events such as closures or even a CQC inspection.

Secondly social media can also boost the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) of your surgery’s website. SEO boils down to how Google trawls websites and ranks them in order of relevance to keyword searched. For example when a patient searches for your practice in Google, 9 times out of 10 your surgery website appears at the top as it has the most relevant keywords in it. But let’s not dwell on that too much.

Social media can be a great platform to raise awareness of specialised medical conditions. With social media platforms such as Facebook, it allows you to create sub groups. So whether your practice has a high number of diabetics, obese patients or one of the GP’s has special interest? Your Practice can set up sub groups that allow patients access to a virtual support group where they can get access to knowledge and advice.

A good idea for a sub group would be Child Health. If your Practice has a high proportion of young parents you could set up a sub group that provides additional support through the first few months. The Practice could utilise the subgroup to organise young parent events at your practice or even a pushchair walk round the local park. This will allow young parents to get together and share advice, tips and gain additional support from the Practice. Another possible group could be help in tackling obesity and weight issues amongst your patient list. In hindsight steer clear of online support for more personal matters such as alcoholism and mental health.

Another key positive to come from Social Media is Feedback. As part of your patient participation group you can set up a private group and invite patients who are already on Facebook to join and leave feedback on the practices performance.

What are the negatives of social media for a GP Practice?

As with anything there are cons. Two of the biggest negatives I consider for a GP Practice publishing themselves on social media channels are;

Firstly how will you deal with patient’s complaints and aggressive patients? From my experiences dealing with complaints via social media platforms can be time consuming, demanding and often a cat and mouse game. Complainers are often more difficult and very insistent and are quick to resolve the issue on their terms or they will report you to an authority.

In my previous experience on working with Facebook pages customers in some respect would often hold your page to ransom by re posting their complaint on every status, pictures and positive feedback. On the odd occasion complaints would jump onto other complaint threads and snowball out of control. Once you gave them a refund and a free bag they soon went silent and left without thanks. This is obviously an extreme situation. I’m sure that you are aware of the growing press surrounding a twitter complaint and a South Wales GP Practice which resulted in a patient being deregistered from practice.

Secondly how will you deal with staff and vulnerable patient privacy? Many people respect their privacy and chose to opt out of social media because they don’t want people to know that their child has finally been potty trained or that they have taken a funny picture of their cat.

When setting up your Practice on a social media site, for this example let’s say Facebook, I would advise staff that to increase the privacy levels of their profiles so that personal information is restricted to patients who may stumble across them. What you don’t want is patients gossiping in the waiting room on a Monday morning about the drunken state of your receptionist on Saturday night or that your locum GP is dating the Practice Nurse (All hypothetical of course).

Privacy in the 21st Century is now as important as ever. With over 30 million (figure 2011, PR moment) people in the UK posting daily on any social media platform, as a nation we truly are washing our laundry in public. Many GP Practices are key elements to the local community and everyone will know someone who knows someone works at the Practice.

Don’t let the negative points put you off. They can be easily managed and the odd complaint can be easily resolved and removed. Social media is a great platform to stay in contact with your patients, invite feedback and become a stronger member of the local community.

My top tips for social media in a GP Practice:

  • Have a social networking policy in place.
  • Have a complaints / Customer service procedure in place.
  • Make it clear that patients cannot make / cancel appointments via social media.
  • Make staff aware of privacy setting available on their social network.
  • Pick a social media platform that suits your practice best.
  • Clearly outline a code of conduct on your surgery website.
  • Only be active during practice hours.
  • Commit to it. Doing it half heartedly is as worse as not doing it all.
  • Finally don’t post anything that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Remember common sense prevails.

Don’t forget you can find First Practice Management on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+

In addition to the information above First Practice Management subscribers can obtain more information about social networking policies in the FPM Policies and Procedures Library.

Additional reading on Social Media in Healthcare:

NHS Direct  Digital Mental Health  Guardian  Pulse  AMED News

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Mark 12/05/2016


anni 18/08/2015

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