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Launching online consultations in the NHS App during COVID-19
Managing our health from home is more important than ever during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, so we have introduced new features in the NHS App to help. Tracy Higgs, Product Lead for online consultations in the NHS App, explains how her team has made asking a GP for advice through the app available for almost 20 million people.
1 June 2020
Online consultations give people a way to digitally contact their GP surgery and get health information, advice and help. Making online consultations available in the NHS App was a major focus for my team before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has accelerated this work.
NHS England and NHS Improvement asked general practice to move toward a ‘total triage’ model to reduce avoidable footfall in practices and protect patients and staff from the risk of infection. This means every patient contacting their practice should first be triaged before making an appointment, helping the practice to decide how they can best help each patient.
Online consultation technology is crucial in helping quickly achieve total triage while preserving good standards of care – and due to their ease of use apps like the NHS App are an ideal platform for driving the rapid adoption of this technology. Where possible each enquiry or online consultation will be passed to the patient’s regular GP or member of the team.
We had planned a national rollout to about 1,200 GP practices by the end of June 2020. Those targets are already in the rear-view mirror.
This gives them the flexibility to link with locally commissioned digital services, because we know that local areas often know what is best for them and their patients.
From our user-testing, we found that a tight-knit integration, where the user doesn’t leave the NHS App, works best from a user’s perspective. A Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)-based API was the preferred method of doing this.
Following the FHIR standards, we built an API that can talk to multiple suppliers and the data they send us. If a supplier builds a Clinical Decision Support (CDS) API following the FHIR standards, we can consume their solution in one integration.
This allows us to easily add in new suppliers with limited additional work. It also allows practices to switch suppliers without needing any rework on the solution. This gives them the flexibility to link with locally commissioned digital services, because we know that local areas often know what is best for them and their patients.
The NHS App provides a simple and secure way for people to access a range of NHS services on their smartphone or tablet.
We're working with suppliers of technology to the NHS to make sure the NHS App can integrate with services they provide.