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How to... improve your practice's image

Keeping patients informed, being media-savvy and improving access will raise your profile.

The BMA's National Survey of GP opinion published last month revealed that one in six GPs are considering leaving the profession because of low morale and fears that the core values of general practice are being eroded. But other GPs are determined to stay and are working to keep the shine on the profession's image, despite assaults from the government and sections of the media.

Keep patients informed
These GPs say the most important elements in maintaining a positive GP profile is to ensure that the patient comes first and to generate good relationships with the local media and politicians.

The key is to provide good quality services, demonstrated, for example, by achieving high quality points, and publicising achievements, keeping patients up to date on changes and be flexible over access.

It helps if you can get the local media and politicians on your side. GPC efforts to keep a positive spotlight on general practice include encouraging GPs to invite local reporters to shadow them for a day to dispel the erroneous 9 to 5 image.

Be more flexible over access
The idea that patients are desperate for practices to open late and at weekends is at odds with reality, according to Greater Manchester GP Dr Kailash Chand, whose day shadowed by a local reporter generated positive press coverage.

'As far as patients are concerned, 90 per cent are happy with existing services and 84 per cent don't want extended hours,' says Dr Chand.

He says that although GPs have taken a lot of flak over opening hours, out-of-hours services have not changed much in his area. If practices are willing to provide some flexibility over surgery hours, patients will be happy, he believes.

'There must be some sort of clinic once a week where people who work 9am to 6pm can go for routine appointments,' he says.

Thames Valley GP Dr Prit Buttar also suggests that practices should be flexible about opening hours: 'I know some practices closing at lunchtime or take a half day off. They need to look at that again to show they are trying to improve access.'

Put the right message across
Dr Buttar was also shadowed by a reporter who was amazed by the sheer variety of his work.

'What surprised her was the breadth of knowledge we need and the fact that one consultation might include a mini-session on both dermatology and orthopaedics,' he says.

Dr Buttar's practice has 10,400 patients and missed the top quality framework rating for 2006/7 by just 0.2 points.

'Similarly, with the GP access survey, we scored above 92 per cent in everything,' he says.

GPs in his area do not fare badly in terms of local press coverage, but that patients do talk about negative headlines in the national press, he adds.

'When we received our quality framework figure we produced an A3 poster for patients and thanked them for their help,' he says.

Clear up misconceptions
Dr Satya Sharma is a GP in Dudley, West Midlands, a deprived, under-doctored area. His is a small practice with 2,700 patients. He says GPs must use every opportunity to work with patients.

'There has been a 20 to 25 per cent increase in the time spent in a consultation compared with a few years ago before the new contract and we are working very intensively,' he says.

He adds that GPs often take work home and that 'we have to tell people we are doing that'. The perception is GPs are working less and that needs to be corrected in contacts with patients and the media.

'If all of us say it loud and clear it will work better,' he says.

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman says that patients are GPs' biggest allies. 'A patient on your side is worth their weight in gold,' he says.

Top Tips

  • Share good news including quality framework achievements, other initiatives and the access survey with patients during consultations, through posters and via the local press.
  • Foster good contacts with the local press.
  • Set up a patient group to discuss different ideas and to get feedback.
  • Make sure you do not have unnecessary restrictions to access.
  • Plan how to inform patients of service changes and correct media inaccuracies.

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