The challenge? A single, simple NHS app

By David Hodnett, 23 February 2018

All the way back in September 2017, we were challenged to deliver a single app that would transform digital healthcare delivery. Our vision for this app is that it should provide patients with access to a range of digital tools and services, in a simple, consistent and joined up way.

The challenge is immense, but the rewards for the public will be great (and personally, I’m already really looking forward to using it).

We have recently finished work on a ten-week discovery phase to understand more about how this challenge could be met, informing the next phase of the app’s development. Whilst we transition to alpha we will not be downing tools – all the way through discovery we planned for the cut-over and now we have begun really drilling down into the ask from the Secretary of State, and what it might look like.

From our research, we discovered that patients wanted to access a range of services online, including getting urgent medical help through 111 online, having access to their own records, the ability to book GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions, as well as setting key medical preferences – such as data sharing and organ donation. In the discovery phase, we needed to understand the user needs for each of these services and test our ideas about how these needs could be met. It was great to meet such a cross section of users, all of whom we owe a great amount of thanks to for their time.

We met with users researchers from other parts of the NHS and interviewed users from around the country. We spoke to users about the type of device they expect to use, and whether they currently encounter any ‘pain points’, or difficulties, when accessing these services. We also spoke to GPs to understand whether they had any clinical concerns or views about how practices could support these services. There will be a lot more of this engagement coming up, so please stay tuned.

We also explored the existing technical landscape, to understand how the app could best hold and make use of patient information, as well as how this could be linked up at a national level.

We discovered a range of user needs during our research. The key points were:

  • users have a valid need to access health services online
  • users thought an app would be a quick and convenient way to access these services
  • users have a high degree of trust in the NHS brand
  • users didn’t like being asked to download separate, regional NHS apps
  • users are concerned about the privacy and security of their data.

GPs also said it was important for patients’ symptoms and concerns to be triaged, so that patients don’t, for example, see a GP when they really needed to see a nurse.

So where next? Our next step is to commence with an alpha phase. We’ll start work on building the app, focusing initially on GP appointment booking. We will continue to engage and listen to the needs of users by interviewing patients and observing how they interact with a prototype of the app, and we’ll be working with GP practices to understand how we can support their needs. As the programme develops, the team will also be looking at how the app could integrate with local services using open standards.

This is the first in many blog posts that we will be publishing as the programme develops. If there is anything you would like to hear about, do let us know and I will make sure it’s covered. For now, back to the flip chart for yet another diagram!