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MedEconomics: How to ... Improve the practice website

Your surgery's site should be user-friendly and promote the services you provide, says Dr Neil Paul.

Is your practice website good enough? I am not sure that mine is, but then, what makes a good website and how do you judge?

The RCGP recently stated that 'an exemplary GP' has a clear and accurate website and which includes information about the services the practice provides, how to access them (directly or through referral), how to access out-of-hours care, how to make an appointment and the surgery's opening times.

The college also states that you should avoid comparing your practice with others and that 'an unacceptable GP' would have a website that is self-promoting. Now frankly - and this may shock - I do not agree with this and I am not sure that many of the practices faced with losing patients to a Darzi centre will either.

Promoting quality care
Unlike most businesses, having a website is not yet essential for GP practices, but it is becoming a necessity.

Advertising your services and promoting your quality are increasingly important in a changing primary care market.

Patients no longer have to register with a GP practice to get healthcare. As well as attending the local A&E department, they have access to walk-in centres, Darzi centres and even supermarket-run clinics.

However, in the current climate, list size is the most important factor in hitting income targets, so attracting new patients is a consideration.

Recruiting patients
While poaching patients away from neighbouring practices may still be frowned upon, recruiting patients new to your area to your list and getting the unregistered 'walking well' to join should be high on your business plan. This is in addition to keeping your existing patients happy and well informed with a view to stopping them moving across the road.

With all this in mind it might be worth asking yourself some searching questions about your website. Some posed here are meant to be controversial.

Have you asked your patients which parts of the site are good and which bad, whether they have had problems and any new features they would like? Put yourself in their shoes. Try to work out from the site how, for example, you can get hold of emergency contraception or conjunctivitis treatment, or who to see at the practice to discuss a termination.

Links to other services
Do you signpost other relevant NHS services, explaining how to find a dentist, make a family planning appointment or contact an organisation to help stop smoking? Links to relevant local and national sites (for example, to physiotherapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, counsellors, charities, help groups and social services) that provide advice might reduce calls to reception to book GP appointments or about how to contact such services.

Easy access
Is the information up-to-date and viewable on a mobile device or personal digital assistant? Is it accessible via all web browsers? Consider the information medical students and junior doctors choosing a placement, or staff thinking of applying for a job will need to find on the site.

Also, will search engines put your practice top of the list? My practice is in Sandbach, Cheshire and keying 'Sandbach GP' in Google gets you to our site. But my wife's practice in nearby Nantwich does not appear on the first page of search results for Nantwich GPs.

Performance data
Are you willing to put your drugs formulary or prescribing performance on show with an explanation for laymen? What about your access survey or quality framework scores? Are you willing to publish audits the practice has conducted? If not, why not? Hospitals and surgeons are becoming much more open about results. GPs can follow suit.

Practice blogs

Responding to major news stories about specific treatments on your site will inform and reassure patients, so think about posting practice blogs when there is a media scare.

These could also be used to give GPs' views on, for example, HRT or non-prescription, complementary remedies. With the increasing importance of health prevention, include information to help patients decide whether they should come in for a health check and how to book one.

Branded information
Consider having practice-branded diet sheets, exercise leaflets and self-help instructions to download. For example, does the website tell parents they can give paracetamol and ibuprofen to their child before ringing for an appointment?

If patients use your site a lot you will attract advertising revenue to help fund it.

  • Dr Paul is a GP in Cheshire

Test your site's usefulness

  • Is all the information up-to-date?
  • Have you asked patients their views on the site?
  • Does it signpost other local NHS services such as dentists, and include links to other useful sites, for example charities and self-help groups?
  • Will an internet search put your practice site at/near the top of the results list?
  • Are your quality framework results and patients' access survey results on the site?
  • Do you post practice blogs on important health news stories to reassure/inform patients?
  • Does the site suggest when health checks are appropriate and how to book them?
  • Are there practice leaflets, for example on diet and exercise, and self-help instructions that patients can download?

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