“Write a Blog for the Patients Association”, they asked; that’s when panic set in. But I then thought; if I haven’t learned anything worth sharing as Chair of a patient participation group (PPG) then I must have been wasting my time – and I certainly wouldn’t admit to that.

Ten years ago, at the age of 71, I was just thinking about retiring from active work and not at all sure how I would manage retirement. My GP told me about the practice’s PPG and asked if I’d like to help the practice “make something of it?” Well, you don’t shirk an opportunity like that and so I joined.

The practice is the Maltings Surgery in St Albans – a lovely city 20 miles north of London with a rich Roman past, a Norman cathedral, a millennium forest, and in the heart of the London commuter belt.

What I learnt

So what did I learn? I can’t give a comprehensive answer in a blog, but the quick answer is:

  • Be collaborative not combative
  • If patients don’t engage with the PPG it’s your fault for not being engaging
  • Never lose sight of the value-add you create for the practice.

Key performance indicators

But what I really want to focus on in this article is the key performance indicators (KPIs) for a PPG. Experience has taught me that there are four:

  • Governance
  • Content
  • Reach
  • Disadvantaged groups.

Governance – a good PPG needs to have a strong open governance framework. It’s absolutely critical that the PPG hears what the patients are thinking, talking about, and experiencing. Too often, a PPG becomes either the fiefdom of the Chair, or a clique of well meaning people who don’t listen to anyone but themselves. It takes a lot of hard work to ignore your personal experience and represent others, and the role of the PPG leadership team is to hear as much as possible about the patient experience and turn all the random snippets into actionable themes.

Content – the PPG creates content and activities that inform and support patients as well as enabling their voices to be heard. The better the content and activities the more the PPG will hear what’s really happening. Webinars, social events, surveys, newsletters, discussions – they’re all ways of engaging with patients. And there is a fundamental difference between communications and engagement – the first is one way and the second is two or even multiple way.

Reach – while content drives engagement, reach measures how effective that engagement is. The key metric here is what proportion of the practice’s patients the PPG is in contact with. For our practice, we run webinars on different health topics, and we know the number of people who have attended at least one webinar. Taking this number and, including responses to surveys, newsletters and all the other activities we do, our reach is more than three quarters of the practice’s patients.

Disadvantaged groups –there’s a qualitative element to reach as well as a quantitative. We work to ensure that patients who are members of disadvantaged groups are involved in our work. The disadvantage may be down to health, finance or ethnic inequalities, but the PPG has a real responsibility to find ways of engaging with these groups. The answer is to find people to lead on tailoring the message to each of these communities and encouraging engagement. Without PPG support, disadvantaged groups may well experience inequality of access – and that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency,

Now, if your PPG is doing well on these four KPIs there’s an inevitability that it’s creating value for both the practice and the patients. A truly virtuous circle.