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How Facebook transformed our breast screening service

A project to increase breast screening uptake has succeeded by using social media posts and a messaging app

A project to increase breast screening uptake has succeeded by using social media posts and a messaging app

Picture is an image from the Facebook page of  North Midlands Breast Screening Service showing ways to detect breast problems. Its project to increase breast screening uptake has succeeded by using social media posts and a messaging app.
Images from the Facebook page of  North Midlands Breast Screening Service

Breast screening is an important way to detect the early signs of cancer, but most recent data show that uptake of routine invitations for screening is at its lowest level in ten years.

As lead health improvement practitioner at North Midlands Breast Screening Service in Staffordshire, this is a major concern for me.

Five years ago our team began thinking about how we could get the message out to more women, especially in areas that we found hard to reach in traditional ways, at minimal cost.

Using social media, which many women eligible for breast screening interact with regularly anyway, seemed ideal. However, we didn’t know how to do it.

We initially spoke to screening services across the UK, which led us to create our own Facebook page, as I had discovered that it is the platform with the most relevant audience to us.

At first we didn’t have much interaction, but in 2017 we started working with NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation programme, which aims to make digital health information accessible to everyone. It’s part of wider work by the NHS to promote digital inclusion.

Through the programme 20 pathfinder projects are being run across England by social change charity Good Things Foundation, including one in Stoke-on-Trent.

Our work became part of that pathfinder, with support from Redmoor Health, a company that trains front-line health workers to use technology.

‘Posts were designed to be shared so women would spread the message and support each other’

It gave me and my colleague Jessica Mulroy Johnson valuable support with everything from structuring our service’s Facebook page to creating the most effective content.

To raise awareness and boost screening uptake, we created our own page and posted on other pages of active local community groups, GP practices and health inclusion groups.

Posts were designed to be shared so women would spread the message about the importance of screening to their peers and support each other.

Our aim was to provide information that would reduce anxiety around screening and empower women, such as videos featuring patients explaining how the screening process works, where it takes place and how it has affected them.

We also answer questions on the Facebook page and through the Messenger app. This quick communication tool helps reduce worries and allows for easy booking of appointments.

Two years on we’ve seen some fantastic outcomes. The Facebook page has gone from around 100 followers to 1,678 and our reach has gone through the roof.

We’ve also had fantastic feedback, with women telling us that our posts have encouraged them to book screening appointments, when some of them had never attended before.

Most importantly we’ve seen a turnaround in screening rates. Attendances for first-time appointments at our service increased by an average of 12.9% between three-year screening cycles from 2014 to 2018.

‘Our next innovation will be an artificial intelligence chatbot to help answer queries’

We’ve also shot up the league table for uptake, going from 58th in the country in 2016-17 to 11th in 2017-18.

It’s so pleasing to see this impact, which is inspiring us to develop the project further.

Our next innovation will be an artificial intelligence chatbot, which is being developed in collaboration with Lancaster University to help us answer queries sent via Messenger.

We’re also delighted that the techniques we pioneered in Stoke-on-Trent are now being shared all over the country in training for GP practice staff.

In addition, our project has been nationally recognised in the Independent Review of Adult Screening Programmes in England, which recommended that there should be further pilots of social media campaigns like ours.

It’s amazing that what started as a small-scale project has taken off in this way. I hope health professionals everywhere have just as much success in using its legacy to harness the power of social media.


Gina Newman is the lead health improvement practitioner at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service

 

 

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