Media Analysis: How doctors get their weekly news

Britain's doctors face a constant battle to keep abreast of changes across the NHS. Robyn Lewis assesses the three weekly publications that cater for GPs and asks their editors what they want from PR practitioners.

Pulse, GP and Doctor - the three principal weekly reads for doctors - can rarely have a dull week as far as news is concerned.

The country's 36,000 general practitioners are in the midst of ongoing upheaval to their working practices as the Government strives to bring more treatment out of hospitals and into doctors' surgeries, as part of NHS reforms.

‘The continually changing state of play means it is crucial that GPs keep up to date with industry news,' says Nick Samuels, ­director of comms at Hammersmith NHS Hospitals Trust in west London.

He adds: ‘They are experiencing ongoing changes to the way they are funded and a growing emphasis on quality of care rather than quantity.'

Battle for market leadership
GP (owned by PRWeek publisher Hay­market) and Pulse magazines are neck and neck in respect of market share, being read by around 72 per cent of GPs; Doctor, ­meanwhile, is read by 64 per cent of doctors (all statistics for the year to the end of August 2006, according to a survey by the British Market Research Bureau).

But this trio are far from the only publications eagerly ­perused by the profession - the BMJ and The Lancet are hugely influential, while ­Doctor's sister title Hospital Doctor has a more specific remit.

‘These publications are all very widely read, but the former three are particularly useful for talking to GPs because they are very ­targeted,' says Michael Smeeth, MD of ­iCommunicate Consulting.

He adds: ‘GPs are clearly very busy ­individuals and because so many people are trying to get a message across to them there's a lot of information swirling around.'

It is into this maelstrom of information that PR professionals tread, as pointed out by editors ­speaking last week at London conference ‘Getting your message across: the power of healthcare journals' (see Related Stories).

‘Our news editor has received more than 200 press releases in the past five days,' Colin Cooper, GP's editor-in-chief, told ­conference delegates.

Pulse editor Jo Haynes, meanwhile, described being ­‘inundated' with irrelevant press releases at her publication, while ­Doctor editor Charles Creswell said: ‘All healthcare ­publications are deluged each week by PR companies.'

PULSE
Editor Jo Haynes
Circulation 42,926

What is Pulse's editorial agenda?
We aim to keep GPs up to date with clinical, political and financial developments affecting their working lives, as well as providing advice to help them cope with NHS policy changes and medical advances .

How is Pulse different?
We give equal billing to clinical and political news and have a ­campaigning stance. We have run many successful campaigns - for example, our Pulse Manifesto for GPs. Our columnist, Sunderland GP Phil Peverley, is currently PPA columnist of the year.

Are any editorial changes planned?
Our biggest changes are a variety of brand extensions including SearchMedica, a search engine ­tailored to GPs' needs; a programme of one-day seminars covering clinical and practice management topics; and our online Travel Clinic, an interactive site providing travel health advice.

How can PROs get involved?
We are looking for messages and stories that have the potential to change what GPs do - we are not really interested in potential drugs that are years away from being licensed. We are interested in messages about how the use of existing drugs can be extended, but we get surprisingly few messages along those lines from PROs.

GP
Editor
Bronagh Miskelly
Circulation 41,888

How are you different?
We carry more articles on IT and a much larger section on finance and management than our rivals. Our GP Life section contains articles for the off-duty doctor on travel, music, food and motoring, as well as offers and discounts.

Anything else?
Our other unique offering is the MedEconomics UK database. This is a listing of both NHS and non-NHS payments to GPs, plus listings of what they might expect to pay staff or locum doctors.

What editorial developments have there been recently?
We have launched a web community, healthcarerepublic.com, with our sister titles MIMS, ­Independent Nurse and the MIMS Specialist Journals series.

How much PRO contact do you have?
We contact pharma companies for comments regarding research on drugs or the effects of new guidelines. We also deal with PROs from bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, hospitals, charities and research bodies. We have to be cautious about our relationship with pharmaceutical company representatives because we need to concentrate on independent research to maintain our credibility with our readers.

DOCTOR
Editor Charles Creswell
Circulation 36,462

What does Doctor cover?
Doctor provides everything a GP needs to keep up to date with ­clinical, political, financial and ­organisational developments in primary care. Doctor is different because it wraps all that up in a package with a truly professional ‘broadsheet' feel, a marked contrast to its competitors.

Anything else?
We also place more stress on ­practice management and finance than our rivals, with a dedicated Money section, and we strive to cover the human side of general practice, with stories about individual GPs' professional and personal achievements.

Are there any editorial developments planned in the near future?
Yes. However, it's too early to go into detail as we don't want to give the game away - but PROs should watch this space.

What dealings do you have with PR professionals?
We want an informed PR person who understands the story being pitched and, where ­relevant, has the evidence and ­relevant stats to hand to back it up. Press releases are much more likely to hit the mark if they are targeted specifically at our readers, but we are often left to work out the relevance to GPs ourselves.

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