How do I attract new patients?

Less than 10 years ago few GP practices would have asked this question as there were patients aplenty. Now, with list purging and increased competition, the environment looks quite different. Many practices will, over the next few years, struggle for resources and ultimately struggle to survive in their current form. All practices will be looking for greater economies of scale and will need to be smart to meet the challenges ahead. Practices will need to attract new patients as well as hold onto their existing patients.

These are my generic five top tips for attracting new patients. There are countless other ways to attract patients, but each surgery’s needs are different.

Ensure that the practice has a good patient feedback system

If you don’t know what your patients like or don’t like then you will have a problem keeping your patients let alone attracting new patients. Hearing what your patients say at the reception or in a consultation is not the same as having dedicated systems to capture what people really think. Ideally, having someone independent of the practice to find this out is even more useful; then you hear it how it really is.

Make changes from the feedback you receive

So you have good feedback processes so now you need to act on the feedback. If 50 people have said they do not like your appointment system then you need to act on this. You may want to involve patients in any redesign but do not expect them to come up with the solutions. You need to find these out yourself, possibly using other experts.

Improve NHS Choices feedback

If you are recommended by only three out of ten patients, why would I as a prospective patient register with you? You need to improve your image and reputation. Firstly, you need to ensure that you provide suitable feedback to those ten people who have been kind enough to comment. Secondly, you need to look at what they have said and do something about it. Thirdly, you need to increase the positive feedback you are getting.

Improve the practice’s own website

If you have a practice website, it is important that you have this reviewed. Is it doing what it is meant to do? How easy is it to use? How easy is it to find? From a website review, changes can be made, most of which will not cost any extra but may make patients who use online services happier. If you don’t have a website, consider talking to a communications expert about how having one can help you communicate with your patients.

Ensure the practice has good signage

Often when people are new to an area they just pass by a practice and remember that they need to register with a GP. If your practice is the first practice they see you are more likely to become their practice. Just make sure the receptionist smiles when they meet the prospective new patient.

For advice on increasing patient numbers tailored to your practice, or, if you need support in making changes and increasing your practice’s population, please get in touch with me. The services I offer may cost less than you think, they will save you money, improve patient satisfaction, increase your patient numbers and your practice’s income.

How do people choose a GP Practice?

Unfortunately, there is little if any recent research within the UK about how people choose their GP practice. This is in contrast to research on patient satisfaction. The last major UK research was in 1989 by Christopher Salisbury who conducted a national survey with results from 447 people. The research found that 44% of people chose the GP practice because it was the closest to them (although for some there were closer practices). 23% of respondents registered with a practice because it was recommended to them. However, when asked how you first knew about the surgery that you chose to join, 47% said that a neighbour or friend had told them about the practice (which I would take as being a recommendation in itself).

Clearly since 1989 times have changed. Today 60% of the adult UK population (30 million) access the internet every day. In 1989 the internet had only been in existence for 6 years and by 1990 only 0.009% of the UK population had access to the internet.

In 2008 American research by the Center for Studying Health System Change found from the 5,805 people who responded most (50.3%) relied on family and friends when finding a primary care physician and only 10.8% on internet ratings. The figures are somewhat skewed by the American healthcare system as ‘Health Plans’ and ‘recommendations by other healthcare personnel’ make up the remainder. Furthermore, internet ratings in the States are provided by various services, not one comprehensive website like NHS Choices and the States does not operate a practice boundary system which prevents family members who live apart having the same doctor.

In the UK the power of the internet should not be underestimated. Anyone who worked for a PCT during the change of dental contracts will know that a huge number of people looked on the internet to find a dentist who would accept them. In the UK it may be found that there is a difference between rural areas (where choice may be restricted by geography) and urban areas where there may be a plethora of choice, but this is just supposition. I would always recommend that practices ask new patients how they found out about the practice and establish why they choose the service. This information can be reviewed to ascertain what attracts new patients to the surgery.

Within the UK we can take an educated guess that the decision as to which surgery a patient chooses is largely based upon word of mouth, internet feedback and the visibility of the practice. However to get a more exact understanding of why people choose the GP practice new and more comprehensive research is required.

How do you, as a patient, chose a GP practice? Do your patients tell you how they found you? Please reply and let me know. Your experience and thoughts could contribute to future research and to the success of your own practice.