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How to increase effective online engagement in the GP practice

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The CQC's Key Line of Enquiry W4 asks how patients who use your service are engaged and involved. When it inspects, the CQC wants to see evidence that your patients are engaged and involved. If the CQC inspector finds that you don't have a patient participation group (PPG), or don't encourage feedback from patients, you could find that the CQC rates your service as 'inadequate', as these examples show.

We've discussed how you can be the ultimate patient feedback practice in previous blogs. Since then, primary healthcare has continued to evolve. For example, technology is more commonplace as a conduit for remote consultations. Friends and Family Tests, and traditional routes of soliciting patient feedback could become obsolete. And if not obsolete, certainly less relevant.

In this blog, we'll discuss how you can encourage more effective patient engagement online. An effective online policy could help push your patient engagement rating to outstanding.

Let your patients know about your website

If your patients aren't told about your website and its benefits, how can you expect to increase online engagement? Here are a few ideas to help your patients find your website:

  • Make sure that website details are included on appointment cards
  • Put a notice on the notice board in the waiting room
  • Place the same notice in a prominent position in the appointment room
  • Train your staff to mention the website at every opportunity
  • Make sure that business cards include your website address

Waiting room posters should highlight the benefits to patients who use the website.

Some practice websites have a patient portal on which patients will need to register. Train your staff to help patients register and log on to the portal. Produce a one or two-page 'instruction manual', which patients can take away and use as a cheat sheet when accessing the patient portal.

Promote self-care on the website

Patients are being encouraged to take responsibility for their own healthcare. Your website should help them do this. Assign a coordinator to respond to requests and queries online. Help patients find the information they need on your website.

Consider a care coordinator as a pivotal role between the GP and the patient.

Ensure that the GP is involved online

Your doctors are the heart of the practice. It follows they are central to your website's authority, too.

The doctor's role starts with encouraging patients to use the website. After this initial encouragement, the doctor should continue to reinforce use of the website by patients. Mentioning the website at every appointment, and highlighting a particular feature of value will help to increase online engagement.

It may be that doctors could write general advice blogs. If emails are sent – to remind about appointments, for example – ensure they are 'signed' by the doctor.

Make sure you reply to feedback

There's nothing more infuriating than not being answered. Especially if you've promised to take patient feedback seriously.

We're living in an information age, and people are more likely to make their opinions known online than through any other media. It can be difficult to consider a public forum where patients can voice their concerns and complaints. But if you don't supply that option, you'll find greater damage can be done on Facebook, Twitter, and other more public portals.

When it comes to feedback...

The trick is to manage online complaints and feedback. Show patients and the public that you listen, care, and act. Let people know immediately that you have read their complaint. Keep them informed of how it is being handled, and follow up to make sure they are happy.

In short, to increase the effectiveness of your website:

  • The more you make your patients feel listened to, the more they will explore your website
  • Make it easy for them to sign up to your newsletter
  • Be open and honest with feedback
  • Use that feedback as a tool to improve your service
  • Provide useful information on a regular basis
  • Get all your staff involved in making every patient aware of the benefits of engaging on your website