#Move4Change: ways to spread health and fitness messages to your patients

Article posted on 16th May 2018

Health and social care

While sharing health and fitness messages can really help to put your patients on the path to a better lifestyle, with so much information about, making sure it actually makes an impact can prove difficult. So, what can you do?

Dealing with the pressures of running a practice and handling your patients’ immediate health concerns is a challenging task in of itself. Throw into the mix that the sheer amount of health and fitness information that’s available can often prove overwhelming, and the task of imparting long-term lifestyle messages can all too easily take a back seat. 

Yet with all of us generally understanding the benefits that a healthy routine can bring – for some of the specifics, take a look at our last article – it’s really important that you manage to find a way to raise your patients’ awareness. Because while patients are ultimately the ones that have to take action, you play an important role in supporting them to take the first step.

“When a patient is taking medication, or is receiving treatment for a mental health or breathing condition such as asthma, we see more success if they have a healthy body.”

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, chief medical officer, EMIS Group

To make sharing messages more manageable, we’ve spoken to experts from across areas to find out what works for them and what methods they’d suggest. World Asthma Day and Mental Health Awareness Week also both just happened this month, so, as we’ll be doing throughout our campaign to get patients to #Move4Change, we’ll be taking a specific look at what you can do for patients living with those conditions.

Share information or promote activities within your practice

Traditionally information is spread to patients while they’re in the practice. It’s something that can work really well. After all, tradition means that things have been thoroughly tried and tested.

To truly target patients when they’re on your site, consider taking a closer look at what you include in your regular clinics – or start to run them if you don’t already. From guidelines and advice to physical exercise, your sessions can cover a range of topics and activities, and can be tailored to your patients’ specific conditions.

“If patients have control of their symptoms, they should be able to exercise.”

Rebecca Livingston, respiratory physiotherapist, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust uses this time to effectively help their patients with asthma. “We encourage patients to take their preventer inhalers, and keep control of their symptoms,” mentions Rebecca Livingston, respiratory physiotherapist. “We also teach our patients the right ways to exercise, including what weights to use, so they feel comfortable with what to do.” For Rebecca, “cardio and strength training” is important as well. That’s why she recommends that her patients with asthma complete either:

Another option you can take is to display information in your waiting room. As all of your patients will pass through this space, it’s the perfect environment for you to spread messages. There are plenty of posters from the NHS that you can pin to notice boards while clear digital signs can give your messages a more central and engaging spin.

For those wanting a more direct approach that also doesn’t eat into consultation time, consider recommending clinically authored sites like Patient.info during appointments. It’s something that can be particularly helpful for those with mental health conditions, thanks to a range of expert advice on topics like improving mental and physical health through exercise. Meanwhile, articles covering subjects such as maintaining a daily exercise routine are useful for everyone.

“There are so many great articles online that a GP can signpost patients to.”

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon

The key point behind using sites like these is to direct patients to the most appropriate resources. As Dr Shaun O’Hanlon details, “You could have an 80-year-old patient with anxiety or a 30-year-old with depression who will need to look at very different content. GPs can tailor their advice to their patient and can advise on the best place for them to go.”

Get online and embrace digital messaging

Websites like Patient.info also serve to highlight the important role that online resources play in imparting health and fitness information. But it’s not just external sites that are useful – your own website is key too.

Acting as a reflection of your practice and your values, it’s a great place to share messages that are really relevant to your patients. You can provide links to self-help articles or symptom checkers that allow patients to get a better understanding of their needs. Additionally, you could direct patients to regional fitness and wellbeing programmes, like this ‘Leeds Let’s Get Active’ campaign which targets our local area. Sharing information in this way can also help to reach those who might normally miss out, like patients who don’t visit your practice often and who may initially be casually browsing your site for details on opening times.

You’ve also got the choice to use your webpage to link out to an online triaging system, which your patients can use to get in touch without having to queue at reception or attend an appointment. Systems like these can automatically signpost patients to relevant Patient.info or NHS self-help information based on their symptoms, and can also redirect patients to the right services for them. Patients with specific conditions – like those with asthma – can also find areas containing information that’s dedicated to them. Here you could include specific tips on how patients can manage their condition, which in turn could support them to exercise.

Beyond your website, we highly recommend that you look to social media to expand your online messaging. The above statistics alone show it has a staggering part to play in helping you to reach as many patients as possible. It’s something that Alvanley Family Practice in Stockport made use of to get the word out about their Walking for Health scheme, a session that gets patients to walk around a mile over lunchtime. It’s proven really beneficial – as Kay Keane, business manager explains, “We use our Facebook page to promote the walk as it’s a great communication tool for us to reach our patients.”

Transform existing resources and make things your own

Whether you choose to use either online or in-practice messaging – or a combination of the two – it can still sometimes be a bit of a minefield to come up with targeted information yourself. But don’t worry – the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) can help out. They create plenty of campaigns which you can easily jump on the back of and promote yourself. With ready-made and expert information available, there’s no need for you to spend time on creating something entirely new.

Ensuring that patients work on their wellbeing can also involve simply changing the format of something they’re already used to accessing. Take asthma action plans, which a GP or asthma nurse creates to detail what their patient should do if their symptoms worsen. Dr Whittamore told Patient.info that “It’s a good idea for people to take a photo of this on their phone so they always have a copy when they’re out and about.” To make life easier for patients, you could create a digital action plan or send information online. Patients can then easily screenshot advice for quick reference and save links for later reading.

Start spreading the news

Even the most straightforward steps can make a big difference to helping patients to make the right choices for their health. While not everything that’s been mentioned above might be suitable for your practice or patients, by considering your different options, you can make your messaging more manageable and ensure that it has more of an impact.

As part of our #Move4Change campaign, we’ve been posting article and tips throughout May. Check out our first article on how to help patients live healthier and exercise more here, and revisit our launch page here, where you can enter our competition to win a healthy hamper.


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