Should you have a Twitter account for your GP practice?

Social media can be one of the primary methods of sharing information and relevant content with your patients. As an easy and cost-effective tool to use, there has been a significant rise in GP Twitter accounts. So why join the revolution? What are the pros and cons? This article will address what needs to be considered when setting up your account.

Why Twitter?

Twitter allows your practice to communicate directly with users and other health professionals, both privately and publicly, as well as share information about your practice to your patients in a short amount of time, whether as a comment on current issues, updates about your working hours, or sharing links to news stories, blogs, and other articles that might be of relevance.

The benefits of using Twitter are certainly worth considering. The transparency and communicative aspects help your practice seem more approachable. From achievements and anniversaries of your practice and your team to local events and health and lifestyle tips for your community, tweeting is a great way to keep your patients engaged. Still not convinced? Here are some more reasons why you should bother with Twitter.

Now it’s time to set up your account or, if you’ve done that already, to have a look at things to consider when maintaining a Twitter account.

Before you start

When starting your account, the first thing you need to think about is your username. This has recently been increased from 15 to 50 characters, but you still need to be concise and clear. Your account needs to be easy to find and should relate to your practice.

Once you have your name, you must write a Bio. You will need an image (no larger than 700KB), and a short description of who you are and what you do. If you have a blog or a website, make sure to include it here too.

You can also have a look at these 5 things to avoid on Twitter.

You’re all set up and ready to go, but have you considered the reality of managing and maintaining your account? Here are a few things to think about:

  • Staff

Managing an account is an on-going responsibility. To ensure your patients are not left without a response or updates for a prolonged period of time someone will have to check it regularly.  It’s worth considering whether there is someone in your practice that could do it? Will you have to hire someone who knows how to use social media? Perhaps you will outsource this, or train someone in-house to create content?

  • Cost

Whether you hire someone, outsource the job, or train a member of your existing team, it will inevitably have a cost. This is definitely something to keep in mind. Whilst the platform itself is free to use, time is money, and time is needed to maintain an informative and engaging Twitter page.

You could, of course, help the process by using a content management platform and schedule some of the updates in advance. However, this will not be helpful in managing ad hoc updates and requests.

  • Managing patients expectations

It’s all about timing.

There are endless resources to help you manage your time, such as the social media management tools. But it’s not just about the time you spend on creating content. What hours will you post and what hours will your account be active? Will you only reply to Direct Messages during working hours, or will you have a dedicated member of staff who is ready to reply 24/7 (or at least a few hours outside of your usual practice opening hours)? It is worth specifying this in your bio.

It is also useful to inform patients that you won’t be able to answer medical queries over Twitter, as it’s best to call the practice or use other channels and services, such as NHS 111. It is also important to make your followers aware that Twitter isn’t the right place to reach out in an emergency.

  • Managing complaints

Twitter is an open channel and patients might use it to express their complaints and dissatisfaction with services provided by your practice. So, what should you do when a crisis pops up? Think how you would like to manage this. As online posts have a way of coming back once they are online, don’t delete or ignore negative comments (unless they are offensive or discriminatory). Simply move the conversation to phone or email and resolve the matter directly with the patient. In any case, they will definitely appreciate a speedy response.

Good luck and happy tweeting!

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