Just as the aim of the bulletin should influence who reads it, the readers should influence the content of the bulletin. A bulletin containing articles on highly specialised hospital treatments is unlikely to attract someone working in a community dispensary. As most bulletins aim to improve prescribing, prescribers are usually a key audience. Most prescribing is done in the community, so family doctors (general practitioners) are often an important target for drug bulletins. The content of the bulletin should therefore focus on the diseases and health problems managed in that community. Often this will require articles on the best use of standard drugs rather than detailed reviews of expensive new products with limited indications.
The best way to find out what your readers want is to ask them. There are several ways to do this:
• An existing bulletin can carefully consider readers’ letters (for example, la revue Prescrire receives around 2000 letters per year, which are an important source of information on readers’ needs), or it can survey some or all of the people on its mailing list.
• It can also be useful to survey some people in your target audience who are not on the mailing list. There may be some simple reason why they are not receiving the bulletin, and if you can correct this problem you may gain more readers.
• If you are in the first stage of planning a bulletin (see also Chapters 5 and 6) you should consider surveying members of the target audience you have identified.
Readership surveys can be simple or complex. How extensive they are depends on the budget available - and on your appetite for information. You may be able to send people a questionnaire by post or attached to the bulletin. Another approach is to invite people to focus groups. A focus group is a small, informal discussion group, usually of between six and 10 people, organized around the discussion of a few open-ended questions. They are often used in market research to discuss ideas for new products. Focus groups can be held in connection with another meeting, for example a conference, to reduce the costs. It can also be useful to talk - and listen - to opinion leaders and other key people.
You will want to ask questions that identify the information readers would consider useful for their work. For example, which conditions do they find difficult to manage, which treatments are they uncomfortable about prescribing, dispensing or explaining to patients? You may also want to elicit their views on how the information would be best presented. Do they prefer a frequent one-page newsletter or a larger journal less often? Chapter 12 provides practical advice on how to develop reader surveys and other methods of feedback and evaluation.