• 5,000 per day. According to experts that’s roughly how many ads we see daily.
  • Almost 80% of UK citizens own a smartphone.
  • Less than a third of UK households still have a desktop computer at home.
  • On average, apps such as Facebook, YouTube and Amazon are being checked over 49 times per day (and that figure is just your over-55s!).
  • UK adults spend on average 3 hours per day online.
  • More than three-quarters of UK internet users (77%) have a profile or account on a social media or messaging site or app in 2018.
  • The top three online activities include surfing the net, sending & receiving email and using social media but all three of these activities were slightly down in 2018 compared to previous years.
  • Accessing news remains strong. Slightly more people are using the internet to find health information and use local council/government services too.

 

Are these meaty nuggets from the latest Ofcom 2018 Communications Market report just eye-watering statistics or insights we can use? As someone that helps GP practices to communicate better with patients, I think these are pretty obvious hints for us all:

  • There is a lot of noise and competition online which makes it harder than ever to get important marketing messages out there.
  • People aren’t spending time looking for information about your business BUT they are increasingly looking for ‘reputable’ health information (23%).
  • Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube continue to be where most people spend time daily online with differing degrees based on age.
  • Smartphones have overtaken desktops for accessing the internet meaning websites need to be responsive and designed with smaller screens and attention spans in mind.

 

So how does this affect you as a busy GP practice or GP federation supporting others?

Your revenue depends on attracting and keeping your registered patient list. You want to attract and keep the best staff to deliver the best care. At the same time, you’d also like patients to use the right services and see the right professionals for the job.

A lot of these can be enabled by your marketing and communications. With a plan, a little creativity and some dedicated time behind it each month, you can achieve plenty. And that’s without a big budget or weekend-working to pull it all together.

Knowing you’re a busy lot who want to do the best by your patients, I’m going to start with just seven reasons why you need marketing for your GP practice more than ever:

 

1. Most people are online – even the ones you don’t expect

It’s safe to assume a big proportion of your patient list – including the over 55s – are online. So why wouldn’t you put your focus there?

Every GP practice has a website these days but is it still fit for purpose? Up to date? Does it look legible on a smartphone? What about reputable health information patients are looking for from the healthcare staff they trust, who work in your practice?

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How to tackle this
It’s okay to use a clunky ‘off-the-shelf’ template website if that’s all you have budget for – I have my own opinions on that but I digress – but consider your audience and how you’re going to run your site with them in mind. If you do have one of these sites, some good content writing and website tech know-how can significantly improve your existing site so that it does the job and patients return to it in the future.

 

2. You can target patients with specific conditions

  • Self care amongst patients at risk of repeat hospital admissions.
  • Better uptake of annual reviews for working-age patients with asthma.
  • Improved access to diabetes services for younger patients.

Marketing allows you to identify which groups of people you’d specifically like to reach out to and then devise a plan of how to reach them, with what you want to say.

How to tackle this

  • Find out where that group spends time, both on and offline, to target them in just the right place, using the best marketing channels.
  • Ask your PPG or ask your PPG to ask people in the waiting room how best you can reach a certain group of people. I’ve seen some fantastic suggestions made in the past when using this exercise. In some areas, a parish newsletter has been the go-to, in others, some well-used local Facebook Groups. Takes very little time to do research.

 

3. You can engage with patients direct

Patients might not see the same GP for every appointment. Whilst practices try to ensure continuity of care for patients with long-term health conditions, marketing offers the chance for the whole practice team to engage and build ongoing levels of trust with patients.

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How to tackle this
Conduct an audit of all your patient touch points i.e. website, newsletters, Facebook page etc to find where there is an opportunity for patients to engage directly with you (i.e. communicate both ways).

You only have so much time in an appointment so consider how you can keep in touch outside of this. Could you offer a peer-to-peer support group on WhatsApp? Transform your practice newsletter into something exciting that people will enjoy with a cuppa and a Hob Nob? A Facebook Live Q&A session one evening to answer questions about common conditions for new mums perhaps? Ideas are endless and safety needs to be built in, of course.

 

4. You can influence healthier behaviours

As a practice, your registered practice list brings in the bulk of the revenue you need to operate but you also want to encourage your patients to be as healthy and well as can be so they use your services appropriately. Patients are looking to you for this guidance which marketing techniques can help nudge along.

This is known as social marketing and is a big part of our work at Yorkshire Medical Marketing – an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behaviour for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole.

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How to tackle this

  • Consider ‘social norms’ and look out for case studies on social marketing in healthcare.
  • From reducing Did Not Attends to encouraging more people to sign up for online GP services, Fab NHS Stuff, The Kings Fund and the NHS regularly share proven examples of local initiatives that have encouraged healthier behaviours amongst patients. Why bother reinventing the wheel when best practice already exists?

 

5. Makes it easier to build trust and loyalty

With the rise in phone consultations and use of care navigation to signpost patients to other professionals and providers, building and maintaining trust with your patients is more challenging these days.

With fewer people seeing someone face-to-face, marketing can help bridge this gap to ensure your patients see you as the reputable information source that you are.

How to tackle this

  • Feature your GPs and whole practice team in newsletters, text messaging, social media posts and waiting room screens. People react to people more than a logo/name.
  • Develop trust and encourage dialogue between the practice and your patients to help them understand more about your services and the way you provide care why you do.

 

6. Increase patient use of new professionals or services in your practice

As humans we are designed to adapt to change; some more readily than others as you’ll no doubt have found in your practice!

With anything new, comes education and encouragement. Good marketing can help you communicate change in a way that fosters trust and faster adoption.

How to tackle this

  • If people see people like them engaging in something new, they often want a piece of it too.
  • If people hear from the people they trust that something works, they’re more likely to go along with it too.
  • Find ways to weave this into your marketing communications using patient stories, simple graphics and short 60-second videos you can film on your smartphone.

 

7. Attract new practice staff

Recruitment is a big issue for practices. If you don’t have money to spend on advertising or you have a lot of vacancies locally, how do you attract new staff to choose to work with you? Again marketing is your friend.

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How to tackle this
If you’re rightly proud of your practice team already, good copywriting can bring that same feeling to life in your vacancy wording. Good words sell!

Well-targeted social media posts can ensure the right professionals hear about your vacancy without spending hundreds on generic practice marketing ads.

Having a vibrant, up to date website speaks volumes about how much you care about your practice and patients. If it’s tired and out of date, does that give the impression you’re all overworked and not looking forwards? It could put potential candidates off.

 

What next?

So now you know why you need marketing, how are you going to tackle it in practice?

  • Start by asking patients for feedback – where and how would they like to engage with the practice. What information do they want from you. What would help them most?
  • Identify any eager social media champions or writing wizards in your team who might like to take on parts of your marketing to-do list.
  • If you don’t have anyone right now, consider training individuals up or better still, look to outsource and buy in these specialist skills if you have a small budget to do so.

I’m proud to be one of the first marketing communications professionals in the country to provide affordable marketing services and marketing training to GP practices, federations and primary care providers.

Get in touch with me to find out how Yorkshire Medical Marketing can help you win hearts and minds through effective marketing. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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