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Cancer screening rates to be boosted using social media

Through the NHS Digital’s Digital Participation projects, hundreds of nurses across England have learnt how to use social media to improve the health of patients.

Facebook is being used to encourage patients to go for cancer screening tests after an initial pilot using these techniques showed that there was a 12.9% increase of screening services being utilised in a particular area. Other areas across the country are now also using Facebook to educate and encourage patients to get screening tests.

Roughly 350 GP nurses and other staff have been trained in using technology to become “Digital Health Champions”, and have learnt how to use social media to promote the services offered at medical practices.

The charity called “Good Things Foundation” ran a pathfinder project which taught the staff at North Midlands Breast Screening Service in Stoke-on-Trent social media skills which paved the way for others to use the same techniques.

Facebook was used as a platform to inform and educate people about breast examinations which reduced anxiety and stress. Woman could ask questions and make appointments via Facebook messenger and Facebook groups were also used to post information and reach a wider audience.

Lancaster University have joined the program and are helping to develop an AI chatbot that will help medical staff answer questions that are asked through messenger.

The pathfinder project’s findings are being shared through Digital Clinical Champions training. National company Redmoor health have partnered with Staffordshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership to provide training on social media and digital technology.

Bay Medical Group in Morecambe has used these social media techniques, and one of their Facebook posts reached over 1 million people. IT and communications Officer Cath McLennan said the advice gave her the skills to post on the practice’s page with confidence: “It was absolutely amazing – now 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 Widening Digital Participation (WDP) Programme is aiming to make digital health services accessible to everyone. New ways are being tested across England to help people access digital tools.

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.”

Helen Milner, CEO of Good Things Foundation, said: “It’s brilliant to see the insights spreading from our Stoke pathfinder.

“Co-designed innovations really can change lives. At Good Things Foundation, we want everyone to benefit from digitally-enabled health – from patients to practice nurses. NHS investment in Widening Digital Participation is helping to make this happen.”

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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