The NHS website is one of the world’s most popular health websites, visited by over 30 million people every month. It’s written and designed to be accessible for everyone and is based on research and testing with users.
The goal of the NHS.UK programme is to provide accurate health information to support people and improve health outcomes. But the way people consume content has changed since the website was launched in 2007. Apps, chatbots, wearables and devices like voice assistants are more common than ever.
We know the wider NHS system and our syndication partners value our clinically validated content, but the inflexible technical structure of our current offering is incompatible with these new technologies people use to get health information.
This means other organisations may need to rely on other, less clinically valid sources to meet the changing needs of their users.
There is a growing demand for well-structured, clinically validated medical content that can be used in a more flexible way, whenever and however users want it. We want to provide that content.
We have recently launched a project to explore how we can provide the great NHS website content in smaller, more specific chunks – or ’modules‘. This will allow our content to be used in new and different ways.
Our initial focus is on our medical conditions content, as this is the most popular content on the NHS website.
We have built extra functionality into our content management system (CMS) to allow our content editors to add ’labels‘ to each section of content on a conditions page. This means it will be easier for organisations using our content to identify the sections of content they want to offer their users, whether it’s information about symptoms, treatments or anything else.
We are also updating our application programme interface (API) to support the change from webpage content to more ’modular‘ structured content, using the international standards at Schema.org.
This work overlaps with the recent announcement of NHS website content being promoted on Alexa devices. Making our content available in a succinct, modular structure will help us make more content available on voice assistants and other technologies. This can help users with literacy and accessibility needs, who may find it hard to use websites.
Some challenges of modularising content
Attempting to take content specifically designed for a website and using it to create content modules has not been straightforward. It has thrown up a number of difficult but interesting challenges.
One example is a new need that emerged for very short summaries - about the length of a tweet - of the content we provide. We did not have any existing content that met this need, so we have had to create new content to fulfil it.
Another challenge has been the issue of clinical assurance. We have worked closely with our clinical team to adapt our existing processes to ensure that each module of content we make available is clinically valid when viewed in isolation.
We also didn’t want to undermine the great work that has been done on the NHS website by significantly changing the existing content. We have done a lot of technical work behind the scenes to ensure we can provide a single set of content that works for both the website and consumers of content modules.
Our progress so far and next steps
We are currently in the first phase of the content modularisation project. We aim to have 250 modularised conditions available in our web code by the end of August 2019, and in our APIs by the end of the year.
But it doesn’t end there. We will continue to modularise all 700 conditions in the Health A to Z section of the NHS website, while starting to modularise our content on medicines, symptoms and medical tests.
NHS Digital Product Manager James Lumgair gives an update on the project to make specific sections of content on the NHS website available to syndicators, so more people can get accurate, NHS-assured information wherever and however they need it.