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How to... publish a practice newsletter

A practice newsletter is an excellent way to communicate en masse with your patients to keep them informed and make them feel part of the practice. A successful newsletter needs to be organised along similar lines to a newspaper.

To do this you need to:

1) Set up an editorial team. This will include an executive editor.

2) Design a visually attractive format. Microsoft Publisher is an excellent program that can help you do this.

3) Decide on frequency of publication. Monthly is ideal but quarterly may be more realistic. Set a deadline for each issue.

4) Decide on distribution. Do you want to post it to patients (expensive), print a small number of laminated copies for the waiting room (limiting readership), print a larger number of paper copies for the waiting room and/or have it on a practice website?

5) Stick to clearly defined sections of content. These can include staff changes, clinical subjects (for example, 'Disease of the Month'), political issues, NHS changes and so on. Readers must feel they know their way around the newsletter.

6) Write in an easy-to-read style. Patients do not wish to be lectured or blinded by science. Avoid medical jargon. Proofread all contributions.

7) Make the copy as current and relevant as possible – write about hay fever in spring or flu in winter.

8) Use copy to educate your patients – for example, reassure them about alarmist medical stories in national newspapers.

9) Encourage contributions from patients. Have a suggestions box for topics patients would like covered, or solicit advice from your patient forum.

A practice newsletter is a useful tool for increasing the understanding between 'the profession' and 'the clients'. It brings with it a sense of inclusion and broader partnership that can only enhance the public image of primary care.

Dr Jim Sherifi is a GP in Sudbury, Suffolk

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