Engagement in the Digital Age.

Social Media is a massive opportunity for the NHS. An opportunity to engage with Patients and Public on a scale and to a depth never before possible. It’s easily the best engagement tool to arrive since the printing press. So isn’t it time we started making good use of it?

Generally, in NHS organisations, the initial responsibility for ‘coping with’ Social Media falls to the communications department. The approach taken is usually defensive; all about Reputation Management and Public Relations. The communication is one-way. It’s about telling people what you want them to think.

What a waste!  When the obvious potential lies in the opportunity to have conversations with Patients, Members and Communities.

In my opinion, the way to get digital strategies right is for them to be led by someone who understands and believes in the concepts of Involvement and Engagement. Traditional communications should step aside. The curtain is coming down,…it’s time to get off the stage.

Valuable conversations take place at the borderline of what we understand, with people who are different to ourselves.” Theodore Zeldin

Brands like ours can no longer be sustained by old style one-way communications. Spin does more reputational harm than good. Brands now depend upon what consumers are saying to each other.

Conversations about healthcare will happen, whether we like it or not, with or without input from the NHS. These conversations have always existed, even before the internet age, but now Social Media gives us the opportunity to be part of those discussions, to respond quickly to urgent concerns, and always know what our patients think about services.

… and before we get all the usual, feeble excuses, 21st century digital engagement doesn’t have to be labour intensive, if you let people talk to each other instead of thinking that you need to ‘control’ everything, then the response ratio could be 1 to 30 perhaps, not 1 to 1. The secret, if there is one, is to take part, not take over.

The Five Year Forward View challenges us to “raise the game on health technology – radically improving patients’ experience of interacting with the NHS“. Now is the time to take that leap forward. To boldy go where no Trust has gone before…


In keeping with the spirit of Engagement, this short piece is intended to be a conversation starter. Therefore I would very much welcome comments. Whether you agree with the points I have raised or not, please chip in.

Any argument needs opposition, to test, to challenge, to probe for weaknesses. The resulting proposition is stronger for it, and in the end all sides win.

by Paul Radin, Notts FT Involvement Volunteer.
Twitter: @paul_radin


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