Practice managers will need to get better at promoting their successes and "telling the good story of general practice", according to a leading GP and former chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) GPs committee.
Dr John Chisholm, a member of the council of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and a vice president of the BMA, told delegates at the Management in Practice Birmingham Event yesterday (8 October 2008) that changes to general practice means managers would have to become efficient at "social marketing" – meaning the application of marketing techniques to achieve a positive change in public behaviour.
One of the reasons for the need to promote general practice "at a national level", he said in his keynote address to the conference, was that "there are some in government that don't understand the added value that practice teams deliver".
One way of achieving this was through regular patient-focused surveys, said Dr Chisholm, by which practices could tailor services to patients' needs and feed back to patients on what they had done.
However, in response to this one delegate – a practice director from Leicestershire – warned of the "survey fatigue" that had set in as practices were routinely asked to poll their patients on issues such as extended hours.
Dr Chisholm said that he recognised the problem of "survey fatigue", but that patient questionnaires and a close involvement with patients through means such as patient participation groups were a way of delivering "quality assurance" to general practice.
Dr Chisholm praised the "positive cultural change" that has meant patients are increasingly asked about their experience of primary care, as he gave an overview of the policy themes that have shaped general practice over the last 25 years and looked ahead to the future.
However, one area identified in the presentation as a possible obstruction to a consistently high standard of general practice was that of fragmentation, with so many different types of surgery and with multiple providers entering the arena.
As a result, practice management was, said Dr Chisholm, "central to the development of a sensible health policy".
While fragmentation was a concern, the opening up of primary care did offer practice managers "new opportunities for your own career development," said Dr Chisholm, as managers could now – like GPs – work across different types of practices.
He cited the mention in the Next Stage Review of the development of an "NHS Leadership Council" to oversee matters of leadership across healthcare. "I would hope there will be some practice managers among this council," Dr Chisholm said.
He concluded that the future of primary care would require multi-skilled practice managers, and told delegates that "you are central to that solution".
Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"Most definitely. Business skills other than the usual IT and accountancy should be high on the agenda for practice managers" – Name and address withheld
The latest Management in Practice survey focuses on healthcare finance issues pertinent to practice management. Completing the survey will take just 5 minutes and the results will be reported in the Winter 2008 issue of Management in Practice magazine. There will also be a prize draw where four lucky winners will win £50 worth of Marks & Spencer vouchers. Simply click here to take part