Social media used to boost cancer screening rates

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

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Practice nurses and other NHS staff are being been taught how to utilise social media to improve health following the success of a pilot scheme.

The scheme, one of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation (WDP) projects, piloted using Facebook to promote breast screening. One area - the North Midlands Breast Screening Service - saw a 12.9% increase in the take up of screening services and moved from 58th in the country for uptake to 11th. Nationally, uptake of invitations for breast screening are in decline.

Around 350 general practice nurses and other practice staff have so far been trained to become "Digital Health Champions", including learning how they can use the same social media to help promote practice services.

These skills were first used by the North Midlands Breast Screening Service in Stoke-on-Trent. It created a Facebook page to provide information and reduce anxiety about breast examinations, posted information about screening on community groups and utilised the Facebook Messenger service to enable women to book appointments and ask questions about the screening process.

The project continues to develop, with the latest innovation a link-up with Lancaster University to develop an artificial intelligence chatbot which would assist staff in answering queries sent via Messenger.

Bay Medical Group in Morecambe is one of the practices which has benefitted from the training and subsequently one of their Facebook posts about cervical screening has reached over a million people. IT and communications officer Cath McLennan said the advice gave her the skills to post on the practice’s page with confidence: “I aim for each of our posts to reach at least 1,000 people to get information to our patients. We’ve also seen a positive impact as more women have attended for screening. I really enjoy supporting health and promoting the practice through social media.”

The WDP Programme aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society. Twenty digital inclusion pathfinders are being run across England to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health, aiming to develop programmes which can be rolled out more widely.

Nicola Gill, director of the WDP Programme, said: “NHS Digital is incredibly proud to have been able to support this innovative model that is now being adopted and used by NHS organisations across the country.

“Going to where people go every day, in this case a Facebook community group, allows us to connect and engage with people in a way that’s familiar and convenient for them. Pioneering models of health prevention and management like this are making a real difference in improving health outcomes for excluded communities.”

Richard Earley, UK public policy manager at Facebook, said: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community, and we are thrilled that more practices around the country are building on the excellent work of Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership by using Facebook to drive awareness of their services in the communities they support.”

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