Keele leads review of social media use by GP surgeries

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Posted on 25 October 2017

A review of social media use by GP surgeries has revealed the potential dangers of un-moderated, unofficial Facebook pages.

Led by a team at Keele University, the review recommends that GP surgeries should set up their own official Facebook pages, to prevent misuse of unofficial pages.

The review included 83 general practices in Northern Staffordshire, and found that only 31 had official Facebook pages. Of the remaining 52 practices, 41 had unofficial Facebook pages. The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice Open, found that unofficial Facebook pages were more likely to have misleading or negative reviews and comments, and some had been vandalised or used for promotion of other businesses.

Kevin Moore, who is studying Medicine at Keele University and is corresponding author of the study, commented: “This paper aimed to measure the use of Facebook by primary practices in North Staffordshire. Whilst carrying out the review, several pitfalls emerged of ignoring Facebook all together. We also uncovered the positive aspects of interaction through a well-established communication and information format.”

The review highlighted potential benefits of using social media in a healthcare setting, including rapid and cost-effective communication and feedback. However, it also highlighted that it can be used to widely share negative feedback or misleading information. Crucially, the authors of the review pointed out that if general practices chose not to engage with social media then this doesn’t prevent the negative consequences, as unofficial pages - created by community users - can still be set up.

Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Primary Care at Keele University, said:

"As a GP attending an Action Learning Set hosted by Ruth Chambers and Marc Schmid, I was astounded when I first became aware of the extent of unofficial pages, some containing quite inappropriate content. I was completely unaware of the unofficial presence of my practice on Facebook. This paper now sets out both the extent of this issues as well as the positive uses for this resource within a practice. I hope it serves as a source of reflection for practices to consider how this technology can be harnessed for positive purposes, to improve communications and to capture patient feedback."

The review recommends that general practices need to be supported to better understand meaningful uses of this technology and the potential risks of unofficial practice Facebook pages.

Ruth Chambers OBE, Clinical Lead, Long Term Conditions Network, West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, commented:

“Since the evaluative part of the project was concluded twelve months ago, numbers of practices in Northern Staffordshire with their own practice Facebook page has increased from the 31 referenced in the paper to more than 60 of the 83 practices.

As practices become more aware of the benefits of practice-owned Facebook pages they are changing their behaviour and opting to set up a practice-owned channel. I expect that as GPs and practice managers from across the UK read the BJGP Open paper they will be more interested in setting up their own Facebook pages.”