Skip to content

The rightful place for health messaging in GP surgeries

19 Oct 2022

Have you ever suffered embarrassing symptoms that have put you off seeking medical advice? You’re not alone. A recent BUPA survey found that one fifth of UK adults, around 6.6 million people, have put off going to their GP surgeries to see their doctor because of ‘embarrassing’ cancer symptoms. The survey found the ‘embarrassment factor’ was responsible for delays of around two months on average between noticing symptoms and contacting a health care professional. Over half of those who were nervous about visiting the doctor said they did not know how to start a discussion with their GP, a third said they would rather talk over the phone and a similar number said they would rather get their advice online.

Government policy in the UK emphasises the importance of supplying patients with good health information. Providing patients with information leaflets has been shown to have a positive effect on their health outcomes as these leaflets can be hugely impactful and capable of driving behaviour change.

Thousands of doctor’s surgeries across the UK display health leaflets in their waiting rooms via wall mounted wall displays in high footfall areas where they benefit from the endorsement of healthcare professionals due to the trusted space they are situated in. The major benefit of these displays is the opportunity for patients to take the leaflet away to read at their own convenience in the comfort of their own home.

The COVID-19 epidemic has impacted the way doctors’ surgeries are currently able to display information for patients because of concerns surrounding virus transmission through paper. Many people have worried that they are putting themselves at risk simply by handling leaflets, mail and paper packaging.  This has caused major concern among health professionals about the knock-on effect of this change and the long term health implications. Mental health, for example, which is a growing public health issue. One in six people this week will experience a common mental health problem according to the Mental Health Foundation. In understanding and diagnosing mental health problems, leaflets are a proven way of providing patients, who may be embarrassed, with health information, guidance and advice.

Despite the belief that paper should be avoided, research and guidance from the world’s leading health organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that there are no know incidents of Covid-19 transmission from print surfaces.  Published studies, together with Public Health England guidance and information from the print industry indicate that the risk of transmission of Coronavirus by handling paper is low.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine detected no viable SARS-Cov-2 on cardboard after 24 hours. Published in The Lancet, the study; ‘Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions’ reported no infectious virus could be recovered from papers after a 3-hour incubation.  As special techniques were used to recover the virus it was noted that this does not necessarily reflect transmission from casual contact. Public Health England advised: “the virus does not survive well for long periods outside the body and so it is highly unlikely that Covid-19 can be spread through post or packages”. Paper and cardboard is non-porous and therefore carries a lower potency for a short period of time. In addition, the manufacturing conditions of paper, print processes and distribution significantly decrease the amount of viable particles required to infect. Paper itself is not a good location for the virus to exisit.

Despite research suggesting that the COVID-19 risk associated with paper handling is minimal perception of such risks are often higher.  To provide reassurance and confidence further measures can be taken. IDS UK for example has introduced a quarantine period and use of microbial paper for all its leaflets.  Antimicrobial coatings allow paper products exposed to high-touch volumes to ‘self-sanitise’ without affecting the appearance or performance of the paper itself. The silver ions present within the paper continually work to prevent the growth of the micro-organisms, effectively reducing contamination levels on the surface.

Creating a paperless environment removes the opportunity to collect a leaflet and to digest that information in the comfort of your own home where you are far more likely to take the time to properly read it and not feel pressured, embarrassed or anxious about reading something of a sensitive nature. It is widely known that prevention is a major factor in combating the early stages of many illnesses so having information at hand early in the thought process is likely to help with early diagnosis.

With COVID-19 changing the way we all use our local surgeries health professionals agree that the concept of supplying patients with good health information is paramount. If more diseases can be caught earlier because of education, that can only be a good thing.

Find out more. Get in touch today

Harriet Bush Harriet's main passion is challenging health inequities and ensuring patient information empowers patients at the point-of-need. She's an active member of the Patient Information (PIF) community and, prior to her tenure at IDS, was a seasoned comms pro working client side with health and wellness brands.