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An NHS project using social media has driven a 13% increase in first time attendances for breast screening in Stoke-on-Trent over four years.

Under the local initiative, information about screening was posted on Facebook community groups, in a bid to reduce anxiety surrounding breast examinations.

NHS Digital said the move empowered women to make appointments and also allowed them to communicate quickly and easily with health practitioners to ask questions about the screening process.

The initiative is part of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, commissioned by NHS England, which aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone.

Across England attendances for breast screening are declining and most recent figures, from 2016-17, show the proportion of eligible women taking up breast screening in dropped to its lowest level in a decade.

According to NHS Digital, in the last financial year 7,938 women in Stoke-on-Trent failed to attend a breast screening appointment, “meaning around 65 cases of potential breast cancer were not detected”.

Through the project, the North Midlands Breast Screening Service promoted their Facebook page on local community groups which their target group – women aged over 50 – regularly visited.

Posts to the Facebook site, which included information such as patients explaining the screening process and videos showing the rooms where it takes place, were designed to encourage women to share them and so spread the message about the importance of screening.

Data on attendances for first time appointments at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service has shown they increased by an average of 12.9% between three-year screening cycles from 2014 to 2018.

“This is a fantastic idea and the community aspect of the group is so powerful that we now have 1,138 followers,” commented Gina Newman, health improvement practitioner at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service.

“We have seen an increase in the number of ladies who have booked and attended their appointments, who might not have done otherwise”.

“The Stoke project is an example of how digital channels can be used to communicate with patients, providing local advice and answer key concern,” said Juliet Bauer, chief digital officer at NHS England.

“This work is part of the NHS’s wider commitment to digitally transform the way we work with all of our patients, improving the information we provide and empowering the public to take charge of their own health and care.”

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