The NHS is rolling out a new app that will revolutionise the way in which patients are able to access the NHS services through their smartphone or tablet.
The app (available on Google Play and the Apple Store) was successfully tested by over 3000 patients across 34 practices in late 2018 and is due to be connected to all GP practices by July 2019.
(Patients will be prompted to check whether their GP practice is connected when first opening the app. Any patient whose practice is not yet connected can request to be notified by email once it is up and running).
In July 2018, then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans for the launch of the NHS App. He praised the app as revolutionising access to health care, saying:
‘’The NHS app is a world-first which will put patients firmly in the driving seat and revolutionise the way we access health services.
I want this innovation to mark the death-knell of the 8am scramble for GP appointments that infuriates so many patients.
Technology has transformed everyday life when it comes to banking, travel and shopping. Health matters much more to all of us, and the prize of that same digital revolution in healthcare isn’t just convenience but lives improved, extended and saved.
As the NHS turns 70 and we draw up a long-term plan for the NHS on the back of our £394 million a week funding boost, it’s time to catch up and unleash the power of technology to transform everyday life for patients.’’
What can the app be used for?
The NHS intend on making the app the new digital front door for patients, integrating with both local and national services to act as a one-stop shop for patients wanting to order repeat prescriptions, consult NHS 111, check symptoms or book appointments.
Other functionalities of the app include being able to securely view your medical records and register as an organ donor.
Feedback from patients
So far feedback has been mixed. The NHS app pilot research report found that most users liked the design of the app and found it easy to navigate. The report also noted that the most used functionality of the app was patients checking their medical records and that the medical information available was considered to be of good quality. Ordering repeat prescriptions was rated the most useful service available and was generally found to be quick and convenient.
There were however, a few issues that users had when using the app. The report revealed that the two-step verification process, in which patients are sent a code via SMS, was considered annoying to users. Following the report, the NHS have enabled Apple and Android users to verify themselves using fingerprint and facial recognition.
Patients also complained that appointment availability did not match expectations, with some completely unable to find any available slots. The GP contract five-year framework states that all practices will ensure that at least 25% of all appointments are available for online booking by July 2019:
“This should result in many more appointments being made available in the app for booking by patients who have previously experienced a shortage of available appointments to book online. We have also included guidance on online booking of appointments in the toolkit for GP practices.”
Another complaint by users has been that the app is ‘’full of jargon’’, references and acronyms that are difficult to understand. NHS Digital have said that the initial response has highlighted a number of areas which it can improve as the app is rolled out across all GP surgeries.
Reception from GP staff
According to the report, staff were largely welcoming of the app and none of the practices involved in the pilot reported being negatively impacted by it. Practice managers said that they found staff were generally proud and excited to promote the app and that they needed no incentive to do so.
Some practices did comment that they found it discouraging that there was no specific helpline for users of the app. The NHS responded to this by announcing that all GP practice staff would be invited to attend a number of webinars (running between April and July 2019) about the app which are designed to help their knowledge and understanding.
A new era
With demand for precious NHS services continuing to rise, a new digital channel as a means of access to data and services can be pivotal in easing some of the burden from front-line providers. It’s important that the app is utilised effectively to ensure that all the potential benefits are enjoyed by both patients and NHS staff.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “As with any scheme it must also be rigorously independently evaluated to ensure it is safe and cost-effective for the NHS and that it is beneficial to both patients and practices and that it does not add a further burden of workload pressures to already overstretched GPs and their teams.”
As the NHS slowly drags itself into the digital era, patient’s expectations are changing and it’s more important than ever that private practices aren’t left behind with their online presence.
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