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GP practices advised to set up official Facebook pages

GP practices should prioritise setting up official pages on Facebook to capture patient feedback, a study has concluded.

Carried out by researchers at Keele University and focusing on the areas of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, the analysis found that a majority of practices have some presence on the popular social media network.

However, out of 83 practices studied, only 31 had a practice-owned, official Facebook page. Meanwhile, 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 paper 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 researchers 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’.

The researchers set out to understand the use of Facebook by GP practices and whether the platform provides ‘novel insights’ compared to other patient feedback tools, such as NHS Choices and the Patient Survey.

They found that, generally, ‘the number of Facebook reviews was higher than the number of NHS Choices reviews’, which they said ‘suggests that Facebook may represent a conduit for feedback not captured elsewhere’.

They also found that practices’ use of Facebook pages is ‘variable’, but ‘most commonly used to  provide generic practice information and for gaining patient feedback’.

They added that GP practices need better support to ‘understand meaningful uses of this technology and the potential risks of unofficial practice Facebook pages’.