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Social media is a tweeting marvel for local health care

A part of the #jabathon flu campaign running this week, a York doctor shows how social media has a vital role to play in delivering key messages from General Practice, not least of all about winter:

We all have different personas don’t we: to my patients I’m Dr Brooks; to my friends or colleagues I’m Abbie or Abs, and to my mum I’m Abigail.

Curating the @NHS account allowed me to show all sides of myself to the world out there. I think some of my close friends were surprised to see the professional Dr Brooks at work, seeing me in a ‘Britney Spears’ headset was a highlight for them.

During my five days tweeting for @NHS I had clinicians, patients and service users asking useful and insightful questions using #askDrAbbie.

I was able to signpost followers to the different types of healthcare, not always their GP practice. As the population grows year on year, we will all have to accept that patients don’t always need to see a GP doctor for their problems. Nurses, UCPs, ANPs (how many acronyms?) and pharmacists can address a lot of medical problems from coughs to knee pain or headache.

Websites such as NHS Choices and patient.co.uk can answer a lot of queries within minutes, while you enjoy a warm honey and lemon drink or a hearty chicken soup.

Medicine as a whole can appear quite old fashioned to some and we need to make it accessible to all. One of the polls during my week on @NHS demonstrated overwhelmingly that patients would much prefer to be contacted by text or email, yet we still send out so many letters and make hundreds of phone calls per week.

Obviously that poll has to take in to account that only people on twitter voted, but I think as a whole we can do better in using social media to its full potential.

Social media is also a way in which we can get real time reviews and feedback. It is a two-way form of communication and certainly in the younger population can reduce barriers to accessing health care. I often tweet about self-care and useful websites’ as I am keen to encourage patients to seek the right advice, at the right time from the right place.

As appointments become harder and harder to secure, we all have to be innovative, flexible and use the resources available to us efficiently and effectively.

A few weeks ago our practice lost power, this meant patients struggled to get through on the phones. The practice manager was able to report this on the @PrioryMedicalGp twitter feed. If we had more followers on all social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram, it would allow important messages to flow to the right people quickly – even without the need for electricity! Smart phones are everywhere, the majority of the population will have Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts, patients can check their feeds quickly and on the move.

As winter approaches I have seen twitter awash with the hashtag #FluFlighters. It is fantastic to see clinicians and lay people alike tweeting about having their jab and encouraging others to have theirs. We were able to advertise our two Saturday flu clinics on our practice Facebook and Twitter pages which hopefully helped increase our numbers of vaccinated folk this year.

We sometimes struggle to capture the younger cohort of patients that are eligible for flu jabs, such as those asthmatics on steroid inhalers and pregnant ladies. But social media is a perfect way to reach these groups.

In all seriousness ‘winter is coming’ and we need to prepare. Patient numbers in our Urgent Care clinics increase hugely between October and March as the winter infections do their best to incapacitate our patients. It is important to be aware of when to seek medical advice, when to approach your local pharmacist or indeed tuck yourself up in bed and ‘self-care’.

Over the winter months we can use social media to educate our followers about common infections such as NoroVirus or viral coughs and colds.

Some of our older patients struggle to get their heads around Facebook and twitter as they can feel clunky or appear confusing. It’s important to remember to check on your elderly family, friends and neighbours during a cold snap and make sure they are keeping warm and well.

Facebook and Twitter are much more than status updates and tweets about that groundbreaking TV show, it’s about sharing information and making it accessible to all. But as much as I am an advocate social media and its huge benefits, I’m signing off to get some non-screen time and a cup of tea.

You can follow me on Twitter: @abbiesbrooks

Dr Abbie Brooks

Dr Abbie Brooks is a GP at the Priory Medical Group in York.Dr Abbie Brooks is a GP partner at Priory Medical Group in York – a large, nine-site practice with a practice population of over 55,000 patients.

Abbie trained locally at Hull York Medical School and went on to complete her postgraduate foundation jobs and GP training in Yorkshire. She enjoys the variety that general practice brings but has a passion for communications and making healthcare accessible to all in a variety of ways.

You will often find Abbie running her practice social media accounts and publishing videos or blogs on specific health problems and wider issues.

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