Unofficial Facebook pages can compromise practices’ professional integrity, according to research.
A study, released by the British Journal of General Practice, revealed that unofficial Facebook pages for general practices carry more negative reviews and comments than official ones.
Researchers looked at 83 practices based in North Staffordshire, which had a total of more than 450,000 registered patients.
More than half of these practices had unofficial pages, with some using their names to advertise local businesses.
‘Practices have no means to moderate content or access to such unofficial pages, leaving the page open for the public to relay whatever information they like, possibly without the knowledge of the official organisation itself,’ said the researchers.
The rise of social media
Over the past years, there has been an increasing use of technology, including social media, in primary care.
Social media allows practices to communicate faster, get more feedback from their patients and promote themselves.
But it may also include misleading health information or unjustified negative feedback, tarnishing practices’ reputation and impacting on patients.
To prevent inaccurate and inappropriate comments on unofficial pages, practices are recommended to have official pages with the ‘appropriate protocols for managing them’.
Practice manager Kay Keane at the Alvanley Family practice has seen the positive outcomes of using social media.
‘Facebook is one of our biggest successes. We have around 850 Facebook followers and about 20 patients who always interact with our social media platform, commenting or liking our posts,’ she said.
Facebook over NHS Choices
Researchers also found that patients interacted more with both official and unofficial Facebook pages than with NHS Choices, the former having more reviews than the latter.
‘The reasons may include lack of awareness of NHS Choices and, possibly, the lack of interactivity of this portal.
‘The nature and much wider usage of Facebook means that the respective comments, reviews and check-ins are much more likely to be seen in personal networks with targeted information,’ they said.
While the potential of social media has been recognised by NHS England, it seems that the benefits of using Facebook haven’t been maximised yet.
‘Practices need to be supported to better understand the meaningful uses of this technology and the potential risks of unofficial practice Facebook pages,’ said the researchers.