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Notes from the field of public involvement

Saturday, 29 January 2005

GPs by any other name

GPs are undervalued, so argues the Royal College of General Practitioners. The RCGP suggests that having a new name could raise their status: ”primary care physician, consultant in family medicine, consultant general practitioner and consultant in primary health care” are suggested alternatives.

Re-launches, re-branding and make-overs happen every day in the commercial world. Whether this will work for health care professionals is debatable. Most patients probably don’t know that “GP” is shorthand for “general medical practitioner”, which is a perfectly good title already. The “expert generalist” in health is to be valued, but they don’t need to be doctors, or nurses either come to that.

Of course, re-branding is not about objective factual knowledge – it is either about attaching a different set of emotions to a product or service or in some way reviving and refreshing the attributes long associated with that brand – Persil washing powder has been infused for a long time with all the values and emotions associated with being a mother. These ur-attributes are endlessly refashioned as the way we express feelings and values around being a ‘MUM’ change.

But is there any point in re-branding a service whose time has come and gone? M-A-C has described a vision of healthcare in 2015 in which no matter how users access care - there is no “wrong way in” - they will end up in the right place, getting the right treatment from the right kind of practitioner.

Ten years from now GPs and community nurses will probably be defunct. A new breed of first contact health practitioner working in all purpose health centres will be the norm offering expanded services, prescribing and cross-referrals, including to a wide range of recognised complementary practitioners and services outside the NHS. Users and practitioners will both move easily across public-private provision reflecting informed choices. The primary care-secondary care interface will have disappeared and sectoral barriers with it. That’s the context healthcare education should be planning for now – the emphasis is on access and helping users make good choices.

Other factors will however stay in play. The challenge of a new service, whatever it looks like, will be to tap into the emotional needs and feelings of its users. Reassurance and safety, recognition of the user as an individual, respect for the autonomy of that person, continuity of care and building capacity for more self care – these will be the hallmark of the new service. The new vision of the pick and mix health and well-being service may mean that users will set great value on having a guide and mentor – the generalist guru who can make sense of what is on offer, help find value, and be the guiding thread in the maze of modern healthcare helping the user steer clear of Minotaurs.

Re-branding the health care generalist doesn’t have to lapse into nostalgic creativity – think Hovis, steep cobbled streets and Dr Finlay’s Casebook. If the users believe that what is on offer meets their needs, then the service can call itself what it likes – anything except Consignia - or some smart brand consultant equivalent – Hippocratica perhaps?

What do you think the new primary care service should be called? Send us your ideas – serious, humorous, outlandish – and we’ll include them in the blog here.

Andrew Craig | Send feedback