The magic pill for patient communications in your GP practice

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This week we invited friend and award winning Primary Care Comms Expert Kara Skehan, from Primary Care Comms Clinic to sprinkle some insight over patient communications.

You have a choice of two pills for your patient communications – one red, one blue.

The red pill is a potent mix of polished website design and regular social media posts for your GP practice.

OR, you can take the blue…you already took the red pill, didn’t you? Has it helped your patient communications?

Social media promised happier, more informed patients, didn’t it? Yet the headache of phones ringing at 8am on the dot remains. Callers asking for the same information splashed across your shiny Facebook page.

As for your website, you’ve invested to make it work. You’ve probably made a great choice and gone with Iatro. So why are there are still angry patients out there? Showing up on Google Reviews and in writing? Often the source of their frustration was something you’ve gone to great lengths to explain on your website.

Why the blue pill is better

The blue pill for your patient comms sadly isn’t the magic pill to solve all your problems but it’s easier to swallow for you and your patients when it comes to patient comms. The active ingredients broken down are:

  • Website readability + reassurance 
  • Social media expectations
  • Patient communications audit

Website readability and reassurance

1 in 6 adults in the UK have very low literacy skills. When you add health information and numbers into the mix, more than 6 in 10 adults will struggle to understand what you wrote (NHS Digital). You can have the best performing website in the world but the words you choose make all the difference. 

Red, all caps text won’t help either. In fact, when you tell patients what NOT to do, rather than giving them the clear steps TO DO, your patients are psychologically primed to make a mistake. And if they make a mistake when they’re not feeling too great, you’re probably going to read about it on an angry Google review in the not-so-distant future.

How to avoid this? Make your website easier to read and more reassuring with these 10 quick go-to tips:

  • Remove all red, caps text from your website
  • Swap DO NOT actions to DO actions, for example: Do not email repeat prescriptions > Use the NHS App for repeat prescriptions
  • Remove jargon – how would you explain to a 9-year old? (The average reading age)
  • Keep sentences short and paragraphs to 3-4 per section
  • Narrow your text so it doesn’t run alllll the way across the page
  • Left align your text so it’s easier to absorb
  • Use helpful headings and subheadings so people can skim read
  • Make it accessible (check out Iatro’s reasons for this)
  • Bullet point lists like this are easy to scan and friendly on the brain.
  • Test your copy by asking patients or your patient group to read and feedback.

Now, let’s move to social…

Social media expectations

Ever hear crickets when you post to social media?

When it comes to the crunch, if you’ve got a Facebook page like most practices do, less than 5% of your patient population are seeing your stuff on social media, because Facebook simply doesn’t serve it up. 

Social media is downtime – escapism. People watch video reels – they want to see baby pandas sneezing and random people arguing over about who was first in the queue. The clue is in the title, it’s social media not broadcast media. First and foremost, it’s our friends and family, followed by community and interests.

Think about your own social media use. You’ve only got a limited amount of time and energy to scroll and interact. And it’s the same for your patients. 

Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok all have one thing in common; they want to keep you on the platform for as long as possible. And it can only do that by showing you what it learns you’re interested in.

Yet social media does have a role to play in your comms – it’s there for you to tell your side of the story especially to the most vulnerable who may spend more time on social and come across your posts. To listen to what your communities need. And to answer patient queries. Just remember, it’s not in your control.

Which brings us to the third and final part of the blue pill:

Patient communications audit

Your website presence and social media strategy are a good start for patient comms. To reach more of your patients, on your terms and with a more lasting impact, you’ll need to get out your full communications toolkit.

These are all your comms touchpoints in and around your practice, digital and physical. They should work in unison to signpost, educate and inform. The result of which? More empowered patients who handle self-care, who know where to go and when.

  • From the leaflets you hand out, to the posters on your walls.
  • From the words you write in your online reviews, to your online triage tool.
  • And how about your Google listing?  93% of all online experiences begin with search engines (and 90% of all searches occur on Google). In short, thousands more patients see your Google content, compared to your social media pages and there’s tons you can do with it.

That’s just a flavour of the main ones. And all of the above doesn’t even begin to cover the patient groups who are harder to reach – those that require careful consideration in relation to languages, accessible materials and trusted community influencers.

Oversight. That’s what you need across your comms; to see every touchpoint, weigh up their effectiveness, understand their goals, and appreciate how they should all fit together. And to get all that, you audit and review all your comms. 

Involve key staff and a small working group of patients to gain invaluable input on sticky issues and ground-to-be-gained that you might not even have considered.

And if all of that seems like too much…

You’re right – it takes time and resource to tackle all your patient communications in-house. Take a shortcut, watch patients and staff become a little happier and leave it to the comms team at Primary Care Comms Clinic. No pills required.

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