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Creating a new NHS England: NHS England and NHS Digital merged on 1 February 2023. More about the merger.

How to design a login for the modern NHS

NHS Digital is designing an NHS login to make it easier and quicker for people to access their personal health information online and other digital tools. Our principal service designer, Tero Väänänen describes his experience of supporting the design of the NHS login service.

By Tero Väänänen, 12 February 2019

team sitting around a large blueprint document

In her recent blog article about user research for NHS login, Rochelle Gold explained how we did user research to understand how people currently use NHS services, how they access them, and what challenges they are facing. This research told us how people needed a single way to access their health services, records and apps, and this is the challenge NHS login was set to address.

From the very beginning it was clear that NHS login is not a service which anyone would want to use on its own. It’s always a part of another service or app, enabling a secure verification of identity and protecting personal health data from misuse.

To fully understand our place in the context of health and care services, technical enablers and third-party service providers, we spent a big part of our discovery phase in workshops with our partner services, mapping out how users might interact with our potential digital partner services. We explored how we could best fit the NHS login to different services without causing confusion or passing an extra burden on to somewhere else in the NHS.

In these workshops we created different journey maps and blueprints, to allow us to evolve our thinking, and to test our hypotheses with end-to-end journeys.

We evaluated the journeys and hypotheses with real users. This research revealed to us how the level of effort we can ask users to put into proving who they are, is directly dependent on the value they will get from the health service or app at the end. The level of identity verification should be the lowest possible and only stepped up when more assurance is required. For example, booking an appointment at a GP may require lower level of verification than viewing your medical record, or test results.

This is an example of what our design principle Design for context is all about. It’s about considering people’s entire experience, the infrastructures and processes that are involved.

Mapping the user journeys and the underlying background processes and validating these through user research allowed us to create the high-level principles for our service:

  • Use the lowest level of ID verification required for the service to balance effort required and value received.
  • Build trust with people by using the NHS name, logo and colours.
  • Build an agnostic service which could be used by many digital services, including 3rd party apps
  • Don’t push problems onto other parts of the NHS to manage, or overburden the front-line resources

Designing the whole service means we can’t just look at the digital parts of it. We must also understand, design and improve the non-digital parts and processes. For instance, we looked at how we should design the journeys to be available both online and in real life, so that people can, if necessary, prove their identity in real life and then continue with their journey online.

Working with user researchers across NHS Digital, we have also understood what we should and should not ask health professionals to do. Our overarching aim is to reduce the burden on NHS frontline staff and to allow them to spend more face-to-face time with patients, not less. We can’t simply ask them to do ‘one more thing’. We need to build backend processes which allow us to take the burden of identity verification for example.

What’s next?

We are working with our partners to help them integrate the NHS login into their services. Mapping more user journeys and no doubt creating even more service blueprints to understand how we can make the NHS login the single means by which users access health and social care digital services, is what lies ahead.

Black and white head and shoulders of the author  Tero Väänänen is the principal service designer for NHS login. 

Last edited: 27 May 2021 8:29 am