Having a PPG is part of the GMS contract. PPGs do involve work, however if harnessed effectively your patients can be your biggest champion.
Below are ten tips to make the most of your PPG – and make the process relatively painless.
1. GP support
It is really important to secure buy-in from the partners on the need for a PPG. Patients have a huge amount of respect for their GPs so try to nominate one to lead on the PPG with the practice manager. It is important that patient participation is looked on positively rather than as a painful obligation. Patients’ time is valuable too, so being positive about patient contributions and the changes that can happen is essential.
2. Have a steering group
Ask your GPs and nurses which patients they think would be good champions for the PPG. Clinicians know the patients well and you will have a wealth of experience in your patient population. Patients who have been chairs of boards, have worked with large organisations and have run events and will have transferable skills. If their GP or nurse asks them to help they will be more likely to step forward.
I have found that developing a smaller group to help steer the larger patient forum can work very well. Identify a few people who have useful skills as described above and set a meeting with the partner champion and the practice manager or administrator. This shares the workload and allows you to bounce ideas around and agree actions and deadlines. If it all rests on the practice manager’s shoulders it can get moved down the priority list. If the partners and patient reps are booked for a quarterly meeting, things will start happening.
3. Decide what you want to achieve and be realistic
There will always be more demand for your services than you can provide and you won’t be able to please everyone. In an ideal world you might dream of patient transport services or patient education programmes but is that realistic with the resources you have?
Some of the most powerful changes can be small ones. For example our steering group volunteered to give up one morning a week to sit in the waiting room and raise awareness of the PPG and collect email addresses, which increased our mailing list by over 50%.
4. Set ground rules for meetings
Whether meeting a smaller steering group or the larger PPG group set ground rules at the outset. For example let people have their say, agree that the PPG is not the right forum to discuss individual complaints, which should be handled by the complaints policy and so on.
5. Advertise your PPG group
Ask patients if they want to be part of the PPG on your registration forms and log this on the patient record. Encourage your staff to invite patients to join, consider advertising on your call board and website. The more patients you have the richer the feedback
6. Use technology
It may not be necessary to meet face-to-face with patients and a virtual group is permitted under the contract. However, in order to do this you need to ensure you have up to date email addresses. Make sure you bcc the list so you are not passing on people’s email addresses and triple check communications so that you are clear what you are asking of the group.
7. Encourage feedback
It can be difficult to deal with negative feedback and there will always be some. However, while it can be demoralising, negative feedback is what clearly shows what is not working and enables you to make positive changes.
Our PPG group asked for an option to press if calling to cancel an appointment on the telephone system because they were fed up queuing with everyone who wanted to book an appointment. This was an easy fix.
Remember that patient use the practice from the other side and so can let you know what does and doesn’t work. Our steering group became real champions for patient participation and worked with those that provided negative feedback to find practical solutions.
8. Run patient education sessions
Some of the best PPG meetings/sessions we have run have been tailored to particular groups, for example patients on anticoagulation medication. Our GP lead explained what atrial fibrillation is, why warfarin is recommended and all the pros cons and side effects. We invited patients on warfarin so that it was relevant to them.
Another really popular session was run by the carers centre, so we invited all patients we had recorded as carers and provided the venue and refreshments and the carers centre did the rest.
9. Publicise your successes
The contract guidance states that practices should act on suggestions for improvements where the practice and PPG agree. Consider a notice board in the waiting room: ‘you said… we did…’ This demonstrates that feedback is listened to and acted upon where possible and shows that you have responded to patients concerns.
10. Ask for help if you need it
Contact your CCG or federation who may have a patient engagement lead and ask local practices what has worked well for them, rather than starting from scratch.
Consider joining National Association for Patient Participation (NAPP). Their sign up costs are very minimal (£60 for the first year and then £40 a year thereafter) and they provide a wealth of information on how to engage patients successfully.
- Fionnuala O'Donnell is a practice manager in Ealing, West London, and a CCG board member.
You can find more information and a wealth of resources on the NAPP website here - some of these resources are only available to NAPP members. These NAPP resources are freely available:
- Creating a virtual PPG - getting started guide
- Community voices - developing virtual patient participation
- Making GP online services work well for patients
- Building better participation
- Getting PPGs in place
- Helping PPGs work well
- Knowing and working with patients
- Influencing beyond the GP practice