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How to...advertise your practice successfully

Advertising your practice has three main purposes.

The first is to ensure that existing patients know what services you provide and how these can be accessed. The second is to attract new patients, or types of patient. And the third is to attract new business.

So how do you advertise your practice successfully?

1 Identify your patients' needs and wants. Practice demographics are a significant influence but NHS targets and local factors are also important. General comments on QOF patient surveys are often revealing, but you can gain additional information by asking patients to complete in-depth/structured questionnaires. Or you can introduce a suggestion box or set up a Patient Participation Group.

2 Audit your practice's current performance. Deal with issues such as environment, access, systems, staff, partners and use of resources. Seek the views of everyone in the practice. Try to identify those patient services that could be improved or introduced without compromising efficiency and effectiveness.

3 Know your enemy. Who are your competitors and what do they offer that you can't? If they attract more patients, is it because their services are superior? Or are they simply better at promoting themselves?

4 Minimise your practice's weaknesses. Some problems, such as lack of space, may be insurmountable. But others are not. Redecorating improves the 'feelgood' factor for patients and staff. Addressing training needs may enable you to offer additional services. Buying in extra help (for example employing a doctor to provide minor surgery) may plug skills gaps. Where services can't be offered – such as private flu jabs – explore reciprocal arrangements with other practices.

5 Maximise individuals' communication skills. The way we respond to patients' expectations can significantly affect the practice's reputation.

6 Aim for a corporate image. Services, staff, premises, stationery and all your business practices should all send out the right signals. If you are perceived as being both 'caring and efficient' you should attract both NHS and private work.

7 Publicise your strengths in-house and externally. Use surgery posters, newsletters, the practice website, local newspapers, target mailshots and word of mouth to spread the word when new services are introduced. And don't be shy about practice achievements – for example high QOF points.

None of us can afford to rest on our laurels. The only way to stay ahead is to review practice performance regularly, making changes whenever they are needed.

Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones is a GP in Marple, Cheshire

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