Waiting rooms are hardly the places many would wish to spend the hours of their day. At best they are often dull. At worst, an apprehensive patient concerned about their illness could find them very unsettling. But could the messages we convey make the difference?

As a patient waits to see their GP, they are faced with a plethora of posters and leaflets, some of which are anything but welcoming or encouraging.

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A poster from one NHS campaign sticks firmly in my mind for its use of negative language. Its big bold letters sat firmly the wall of the GP surgery: “Unfortunately, no amount of antibiotics will get rid of your cold.”

The antibiotics dilemma we now face is not in question. But how can such a negative message, with such negative language, starting with the word “unfortunately”, serve to help patients?

The campaign has even been mocked by online bloggers who chose to add the tagline “So stop wasting our time…”

The person writing the poster copy could have gone for a simple: “Antibiotics can’t help your cold, try X, Y or Z instead to ease your symptoms”. This would have removed some of the negative words, whilst bringing the antibiotics subject matter to the fore and providing an alternative solution to the patient.

In very small letters at the bottom of the original poster, some advice was in fact offered, but the emphatic message to the patient must not be that help is not here for you.

NHS waiting rooms do offer a fantastic opportunity for communication with patients and they should certainly continue to do so. Very important messages already promoted around advice, helplines, serious conditions and actions to take in emergency situations.

Yet, could we also offer positive messages that bring hope and even enjoyment? In the digital age, why shouldn’t we have screens showing good news of local NHS successes, or telling the stories of patients who are benefiting from the hard work of local NHS staff, and stories of patients who have defeated the odds against life threatening illnesses, mixed in with meaningful and helpful information?

We could even develop apps that can be downloaded, where patients can access the latest information on key campaigns, via free WiFi that can also be offered at surgeries, to allow people to connect with the world as they sit quietly waiting to see the doctor.

Many people who have long term conditions and health complications will spend many hours in NHS waiting rooms. And some people visiting a healthcare environment will already feel anxious. We should do all that we can to make their waiting experience a positive one.

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Matthew D'Arcy

Matthew has accumulated a wide range of experience in the media. A journalist and former editor who has also worked in PR and marketing, Matthew is well placed to help clients develop successful communications programmes.

His most recent media experience has involved following healthcare and public sector technology developments closely, on which he wrote daily news and features for both print and online titles.

Prior to that he was the editor of several influential specialist publications read by tens of thousands of people.

Matthew has specialised in areas including politics, public services, technology, defence, international development and e-government and has experience interviewing and commissioning high profile figures ranging from Cabinet level government ministers through to senior company executives and even heads of the armed forces.

He has strong writing skills, a solid understanding of what journalists are looking for and professional experience in the social media environment, having managed accounts followed by thousands of users, ranging from senior civil servants to leading politicians.

Prior to becoming a journalist he worked in PR and marketing, building online marketing strategies, conducting marketing research and achieving regular positive media coverage for employers.

“Achieving a strong media presence places a business in a position of authority. Those who get their comments published are the experts – they are the people the market should turn to for the answers.”
A little about Matthew:
In his spare time Matthew is passionate about photography. He has performed in contemporary theatre and community arts projects. His interests include travelling, cooking and live music. He is fascinated by politics, holds a master’s degree in international history, and attempts to row with his local boat club whenever he has the opportunity.

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