Don't sell yourself short
The NHS is going to start advertising. GPs, among others, will be tailoring their services to suit patients' needs, and the fact will be advertised accordingly. The dream is to create an ever improving system of health care built around patient needs.
We GPs know we are in an increasingly competitive market. We know we need to market our services. We know we have to play by the rules (there is a strong focus at the moment on regulation to ensure that patient information is not misleading, inaccurate or unfair).
But most of all we know we have to work increasingly hard to please patients.
The advertising initiative is directed primarily at the acute health sector and that means as patient advocates of choice and devolved commissioning we are in the frontline.
We are to expect no gifts or advantages. But life being as it is, we can expect to see a subtle system of rewards and privileges emerging. An educational trip here, a lavishly sponsored conference there. In a competitive and money-driven market – above all in a market driven by advertising – these things happen.
Go the whole hog?
None of this affects us greatly at the moment. But it will. As I've mentioned before, publishing health outcomes and patient satisfaction ratings inevitably becomes of huge significance in a market dictated by choice. So should we GPs start advertising ourselves? Some of us are already doing do. But in a genteel sort of way. Should we go the whole hog and enter the heady world of big-time PR?
Headlines featuring GPs raising cash for charity never do any harm and in a maturing market where money follows patients, it's bums on seats, or rather ghosts on list sizes, that get multiplied into QOF points or direct enhanced service payments.
Acute sector marketing is another tool in the armoury of suppliers in a market that is already heavily developed in that direction. For the sanity of our PCT financial directors and to develop patient pathways, we need to establish stronger commissioning before patient demand and giant hospital vacuums suck up every available free health resource.
And we need to trumpet all this from the rooftops.
For many the thought of NHS advertising is like a red rag to a bull while for others it is the future. My feeling is that practising good medicine and treating patients fairly is the best way of proclaiming yourself a good doctor.
Dr Andy Jones is a GP in Stamford, Lincolnshire