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“Dear Father Christmas” – A wish list from a practice manager (and a reply from a marketing-savvy Santa!)

by in Funny

Dear Santa,

No word of a lie, the entire team at our surgery have been REALLY good ALL year through. So good, in fact, that our patients are really happy with us (83.8% of patients describe their overall GP experience as ‘good’). So, it’s safe to say that we’re on your ‘nice list’ and definitely in line for some decent presents.

But we’ll happily skip the gifts, the snow, the five-course fine-dining experience, because all we REALLY want for Christmas is for four things to work seamlessly in our practice every day.

Santa, we’ve seen it work for other practices – practices that run smoothly with happier teams and patients whose lives are made easier. Now we think it’s our turn. Won’t you please make this Yuletide (and the New Year to come) one where we enjoy…

  1. Fewer missed appointmentsup to 15 million practice appointments are wasted each and every year in the UK, and our under-pressure team could do so much with those saved resources.
  2. A sparkling patient experience – one that means our patients recommend us to others (which pushes up our ‘Friends and Family’ score, as well as our commissioner brownie points).
  3. Please (oh please!) propel our website up Google and make it easier to use (it seems that very few people use our website, and we’ve a feeling it’s down to nobody having time to update it).
  4. More engagement and two-way communication with our patients please (truth be known, sometimes we feel a little disconnected from them).

Thanks in advance,

The entire team at Green Rise Surgery


Dear Practice Manager,

Thank you for your letter, the coffee mug imprint and your admirably picked wish list of items.

I’ll be blunt – I write back with both good news and bad.

First the good – all the things you ask for are perfectly possible.

The bad news is that these wishes aren’t the kind we keep in stock. Not even Alabaster Snowball, Bushy Evergreen AND Pepper Minstix combined are capable of creating these for you.

But I know you’re not afraid of a little elbow grease. So, here’s how to get everything you ask for – let’s run through them point by point. (Spoiler: they all link back to your marketing.)

1. Brace yourself – text messages can drive down ‘did-not-attends’ significantly (which I know cost the NHS around £1bn per annum). Text messages can also be used to:

  • Inform your patients of ‘flu vaccinations’
  • Share health-related advice
  • Ask for feedback following a visit to your surgery

And get this – your patients can even respond to your texts, their replies being sent automatically to a specified email address. Just remember to seek explicit permission from your patients to send appointment reminders to them via text. Those who flout GDPR rules are committed to the worst ‘naughty list’ of all (expect nothing but coal for the next three Christmases in a row)

2. Three words – Patient. Centred. Care. From the way your front-of-house team welcome your patients, to the printed communications in the waiting room, even to your phone system, everything should be focused on the patient experience. All of these factors should work together to ensure your patients tell their friends and family all about your practice.

If you’re wondering where to begin, go ahead and ask your patients for feedback in the form of a satisfaction survey – they’re usually the best (but most underused) source of ideas.

3. Bad news, my friend. Your website isn’t mobile-ready. Being responsive is fundamental if your website is to be found on Google. (FYI, a couple of years back, Google began de-ranking websites if they weren’t suited to mobile; read more about that right here.) And most of us are reading sites on those nifty smartphones now rather than a laptop. Ask Mrs Claus; she’s always on Amazon Prime!

So, ensuring your website is mobile-friendly should be your priority for now. After which, you should also make sure your website…

  • Has someone behind the scenes who has an entry-level working knowledge of SEO (here’s a good place to start: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz)
  • Is easy to navigate with bite-size, easy-to-snack-on content
  • Always contains up-to-date information which provides value to your patients – this might include your latest newsletters, the most recent CQC inspection where you were rated ‘outstanding’, or an introduction to a new team member

4. Making use of local community Facebook groups can also help to support your patients in fresh 21st-century ways, like providing support and interactive advice in a private online setting. (Some surgeries are using closed Facebook groups as private weight-management groups and diabetes groups.) For some social inspiration, check out the Conexus Healthcare GP confederation (@ConexusHealthUK) and Sherbourne Medical Centre (@SherbourneGPs).

A word to the wise, however – there will be a day when you receive bad feedback on social media. When this happens, you need to be speedier than Rudolph in writing a professional response, employing all of the best practice techniques that you use when handling complaints in the ‘real world’.

Now, before I go, Sugarplum Mary has reminded me of our own in-house social media rules. Feel free to borrow them…

  • Create a social media policy and staff social media guidelines and review them frequently.
  • Take care when choosing your social platforms – they must fit in well with your practice.
  • Avoid posting anything that you wouldn’t be happy to post elsewhere, or that you wouldn’t be happy to say face to face.

That’s all my marketing advice spent. I now need to get back to strategising with Dasher, Dancer and Prancer for this year’s rounds.

Ho, ho, ho and a Happy New Year! (Keep up the excellent work!)

Who knew that the big man in the red suit was a marketing whizz as well as a festive legend?

Author: Kara Skehan (Yorkshire Medical Marketing) – Front-line friend to primary care. Champion of common sense and ‘reyt’ simple words. Kara is a healthcare marketing specialist living and working in Yorkshire.

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Practice Index

Practice Index

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2 Responses to ““Dear Father Christmas” – A wish list from a practice manager (and a reply from a marketing-savvy Santa!)”
  1. Avatar
    RLea Says:

    Can I please check regarding “explicit consent for text messages”? Our Data Protection Officer has confirmed as long as we tell our patients in our privacy notices that we will use their mobile phone numbers for their care,( Including appt reminders) then explicit consent is not needed.

    I’d appreciate others / the authors thoughts.


    • Avatar
      Kara Skehan Says:

      That’s very much how I understand it too – if it’s part of the care and therefore service you’re providing, and duly noted in your privacy notices, there shouldn’t be any issues.

      GDPR stipulates making sure people can opt-out too so double check that your privacy notice gives information on how to remove consent for text messages and that’s all bases covered 🙂


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