Online self-help: encouraging patient take-up
In last month’s newsletter we reported on the demand audit carried out by Hertfordshire-based Lea Valley Health. The exercise threw up some interesting findings, and just one which stuck out was how little patients were using online self-help or advice prior to making an appointment. Of those surveyed, just 2% used the surgery website to ‘self-help’ and a further 19% used other services, such as NHS 111.
It’s clear that the default position for 79% of patients surveyed was to go straight to the doctor. And it seems likely that this is reflected at practices across the country.
So how do you encourage patients to seek help first? Given how stretched practices are, the more you can pre-empt the tendency to go straight to the GP – without, of course, putting patients at risk – the better.
Five practical tips
This month, we will look five measures practices can take to guide patients towards trusted self-help before they make a phone call to the practice or make an appointment.
- Be succinct. Home in on just a few issues at any one time – subjects that are relevant to your patients, the things that they are phoning about. Avoid the temptation of putting in an exhaustive list of everything you can think of and creating a long-winded and off-putting A-Z of self-help.
- Be topical. Highlight features that are current to the time of year such as hay fever or travel in the summer; colds and flu in the winter. Taking the time to keep a content calendar can pay dividends.
- Concentrate on giving advice, write text that addresses your patients’ issues and make your copy clear and simple. People have a very limited attention span when reading online, so text that gets to the point and solves their issue, or gives them direction, will be the most effective.
- Structure the copy so it gives clear instructions. Focus on what the patient can do now, when they should seek medical help, and where can they go for advice. The move to mobile – with so many people accessing websites via smart phone or tablet – has only strengthened the argument for writing short, direct instructions.
- Measure the results. As a simple starting point, look at the analytics on your website to see what impact the content is having. You’ll soon know what does and doesn’t work and you can adjust your text where necessary.
These five simple steps taken together should not only increase the use of your website, but encourage patients to take a self-help route first.
And finally, educate your patients about the features of your website and how it can help them get their answers more quickly. Don’t make the website your practice’s best kept secret!