GP practices should prioritise setting up official pages on Facebook to capture patient feedback, according to a study supported by WMAHSN and published in a leading journal.
The study was carried out by researchers at Keele University, including Dr Ruth Chambers, Long Term Conditions Lead for WMAHSN as well as GP principal in Stoke-on-Trent, Chair of Stoke-on-Trent Clinical Commissioning Group and Honorary Professor at Keele and Staffordshire Universities.
The researchers set out to understand the use of Facebook by GP practices and whether the platform provides novel insights, compared with other patient feedback tools, such as NHS Choices and the Patient Survey. Focusing on Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, the analysis found that a majority of practices had some presence on the popular social media network. However, out of 83 practices studied, only 31 had a practice-owned, official Facebook page, while 41 out of the 52 remaining practices had an unofficial page.
The study, published in BJGP Open, concluded that "patient engagement with pages suggests demand for this technology", but that there were "risks associated with unmoderated unofficial pages".
The researchers said: "Evidence was found of unofficial pages having been vandalised and used for the non-intended purpose of advertising local businesses; further, there was a trend towards less positive feedback on unofficial Facebook pages. Thus, it is suggested that practices consider the value of hosting at least an official landing page which, as a minimum, would act as a directory listing for a practice.
"This would serve a subsidiary function of preventing unmoderated, inaccurate, and inappropriate information within unofficial pages being prominent in search results; although, within the examples found, content was generally not harmful, these have potential to seriously damage the reputation of a practice if interpreted as being practice-endorsed."
The study suggested that these risks, which included pages set up entirely without the practices' knowledge, "can be mitigated by practices having official pages hosted by the practice with appropriate protocols in place for managing them". It also found that practices' use of Facebook pages is variable, but "most commonly used to provide generic practice information and for gaining patient feedback".
The researchers also found that, generally, the number of Facebook reviews was higher than the number of NHS Choices reviews, which suggests that Facebook may represent a conduit for feedback not captured elsewhere. They added that GP practices need better support to "understand meaningful uses of this technology and the potential risks of unofficial practice Facebook pages".