Social media - share the power

If you're the owner of a powerful tool you could be forgiven for holding tight and not letting anyone else use it. They might hurt themselves – or someone else.

But if that tool has the potential to improve the lives of many people, surely you should loosen the grip and show others how to use it.

This particular tool is social media and at our last EngageWell event we explored its potential to transform the way health care is delivered when we use it to engage patients and public.

Many organisations guard their social media channels closely, allowing only communications teams to post and respond to posts. But increasingly, more are loosening those corporate shackles and empowering clinical and patient experience teams to go forth and communicate.

And then there are the patients themselves who don’t wait for permission before they tweet or post on Facebook about their experience.

At our third EngageWell event we heard fabulous examples of how social media is improving health care through patient engagement.


And what an emotional starter in our keynote address – Chris Pointon, global ambassador for the massively successful #Hellomynameis phenomenon, shared the story of how he and his late wife Dr Kate Granger launched their movement with a tweet from a hospital bed on 31 August 2013.

He told how Kate as a terminally ill cancer patient was devastated to be given bad news about a test result by a doctor who didn’t bother to introduce himself and left the room as quickly as he could. Kate was thinking and feeling as a patient but her training and experience as a doctor must have helped her to come up with that simple request of all health care staff – to introduce themselves to every patient, at every first contact.

The challenge was picked up and shared all over the world and the hashtag has had more than 1.8 billion Twitter impressions. Kate and Chris have persuaded countless celebrities and politicians including Kylie Minogue, Jeremy Hunt, David Cameron and Theresa May to endorse the campaign. And the campaign continues, with Chris now on a 12-month unpaid sabbatical to speak about #Hellomynameis, all over the world.

You can watch Kate tell her story in this video; and you can buy her two books on the #hellomynameis website.

Kate died on 23 July 2016; but as Chris told us at the event, through adversity came the most amazing legacy.  View his talk on our Youtube channel and his slides here.

Patient communities on Facebook

Examples of creating communities in closed Facebook groups for patients with long term conditions came from Marc Schmid of Redmoor Health. In North Staffordshire, Marc has set up Facebook groups for 64 of the 83 GP practices to engage with patients on issues such as flu vaccines, winter pressures advice and supporting care navigation. Marc’s team run three groups from Royal Stoke Hospital covering MS, cardiac rehabilitation and AF and stroke, with membership ranging from 200 to 350.

It’s not only helping patients it’s also empowering staff in ways they hadn’t anticipated. View his slides and watch his presentation here.

Acting on patient feedback

At The Pennine Acute NHS Trust, a quality improvement programme launched after a CQC report in 2016. The report highlighted a lack of engagement with women and as a result, the new role of Patient Experience Midwife was created, partly to focus on women's feedback. Alongside the structured quality improvement work carried out by Lisa Elliot and Vanessa Blanchard of Elliot Blanchard Ltd, midwife Samantha Whelan became the trust's pioneer in using social media to engage with patients about their feedback on the Care Opinion platform.

Samantha responded to patient stories in real time and where they were praising staff – which was most of the time – she shared them with the staff directly and on Twitter and Facebook. The result was that more stories were being shared and more staff became aware of patients’ good experiences and thankyous – which lifted morale.

She asked for feedback, good and bad and there were some easy wins, such as acting on a complaint about chairs being uncomfortable for heavily pregnant women in a waiting room – by providing different chairs. The presentation is here and the talk can be viewed here.

It’s not always easy or desirable to set up non-communications professionals in the NHS on social media; as an NHS communications specialist myself I understand that. But in the right circumstances and given the right guidance, governance, boundaries and training, our EngageWell presenters showed how it’s not only possible, it leads to wide reaching improvements for staff as well as patients and public.

The wonders of a Winter Facebook page

Ben Greenwood of Blackburn with Darwen Council told how the authority responded to criticism from residents every winter that ‘we never see gritters out when we need them’.

Their comms team set up a Blackburn with Darwen Winter Facebook page to provide information about the gritters, plus weather forecasts. They trained a gritting manager – and the page became an unexpected success with local people joining in discussions - and siding with the gritting teams. When someone complained they hadn’t seen a gritter, a typical response from a fellow resident was ‘I’ve seen them, they’re on Smith Street and don’t worry, I’ll be round with a shovel to clear your path’.

The page quickly gained 10,000 likes; the authority had 10,000 fewer calls; and during the floods of 2015 the page reached 130,000 people with 25,000 engagements. Ben’s talk is here.

A tweeting culture @WelshAmbulance

An organisation which positively encourages staff to use social media is the Welsh Ambulance Service, where you will find a plethora of accounts on the twittersphere. One of these is @WelshAmbPIH run by the patient experience team to engage with the public and gather feedback to improve services.

It starts at the top, with the CEO and all the senior team using Twitter to engage with staff, partners and public. Gareth Thomas and Alison Johnstone described the approach and the benefits – view them here.

Social Media Week – for staff

Staff engagement within an NHS trust is a challenge; reaching people in wards, clinics, theatres, portering and catering areas, ie without access to computers is a perennial problem for comms teams.

The creative comms team at NELFT NHS Trust pitched a campaign at staff to persuade them to engage on social media, with a Social Media Week – a passion project for social media officer Kyle Grieve. It combined a series of physical events with eye catching posters, e-shots and of course social media posts to generate lots of attention. The week ran for a second time this autumn and included top notch speakers; toolkits for staff to learn how to run their own patient engagement channels; and examples such as the staff member who said: “Having a social media account for our team has helped our service greatly in ways that we could not have anticipated… one of our biggest selling points for commissioners.”

Watch Kyle’s presentation here and view the slides here. Download Kyle’s SoMe Week resources here.

Research based engagement

Finding the evidence that social media can actually improve health is possible but requires effort – and resource. A team at the University of Salford Radiography Department have done it, with their WoMMeN project.

The Word of Mouth Mammogram e-Network set out to increase the uptake of mammograms in areas where numbers were low. They carried out research that showed that women felt poorly informed and therefore ill prepared for a mammogram, which caused anxiety.

They involved 89 women in a private Facebook group to design a website ‘hub’ with information based on what women were asking for.

But social media was the key as women said they preferred word of mouth communications to printed materials – hence the creation of WoMMeN and its Twitter, Facebook and patient experience blogs.

View Dr Leslie Robinson’s talk and slides to find out more about their discoveries.

Time for a Fab Change

It’s the perfect time to talk about improving care through social media with November’s Fab Change Week challenging us to commit to making small changes. Regional Fab Ambassador Leanne Lockley of Wirral University Teaching Hospital provided lots of inspiration; see her slides here.

I’m part of a small group with Leslie Robinson and Cristina Vasilica at the University of Salford looking at ways and means to enable more health care staff to use social media in their practices. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch.

Finally, thanks to John Popham for filming and live streaming – all recordings are on the Innovation Agency Youtube channel.

Caroline Kenyon


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Posted by: Caroline Kenyon, on: 14 November 2017