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Modularised content: Google knowledge panels

NHS Digital Product manager James Lumgair talks about how the NHS website is getting trusted, accurate health information in front of more users than ever before through 'knowledge panels' on Google search result pages.

A key part of the vision for the NHS website involves adapting our publicly available content for new technologies, channels and platforms. This gives people easier access to trusted, clinically assured information however they choose to search. Getting NHS information in Google knowledge panels is one of the first examples of this new approach in action.

Coronavirus information on a Google knowledge panel

Google knowledge panels

You’ve probably noticed that for some Google searches using your mobile – for example, about an actor or film – you get a section at the top of your results with a summary of information from sources like Wikipedia or IMDB.

Google knowledge panel for the United Kingdom

This is what Google call a 'knowledge panel'. 

These panels have been used for a range of topics for a while now, but in the UK they had never been used for health information. 

From this week, thanks to the hard work of the team, anyone who searches Google on a mobile device can find knowledge panels with reliable and authoritative health information on more than 250 conditions from the NHS website. This can help more people learn about common conditions, symptoms and treatments more quickly and easily than ever before.

Google knowledge panel for sciatica, heart attack and prostate cancer

Adding structured data mark-up to the NHS website

To allow NHS website content to appear in knowledge panels, we had to “modularise” our content by adding structured data mark-up based on open standards.

We talked about the work to modularise NHS website content in a previous blog post. 

In a nutshell, this involves adding mark-up to our pages to identify the specific sections of content. For example, on our pages on medical conditions we can mark-up the sections about symptoms or treatments. 

The sections of marked-up content can then be used by anyone who wants them, either by using the JSON+LD script in our page code or the free NHS API or widgets. 

We’ve added structured data mark-up to more than 250 of the most popular topics on the NHS website. 

Sections we marked-up included:

  • Overview – what the condition is and a summary of key facts
  • Symptoms – the main signs and symptom of the condition
  • Self-care – things you can do to relieve or treat the condition
  • Medical treatments – treatments you may be offered by a health professional

We also created short content summaries (up to 150 characters) to accompany each section we’d marked up.

During this work, we’ve helped develop a new open standard for marking-up health information (called HealthTopicContent), which will make it easier for others to correctly mark-up their health content.

Adapting our content production approach

This was our first attempt to modularise NHS website content at scale, so it was a good chance for us to re-think how we produce content.

Our existing processes were designed for creating content for one platform – the NHS website – not for the modularising our content with structured data mark-up.

Modularising our content for knowledge panels allowed us to solve issues such as:

  • How might we make sure each section of our website content makes sense if used in isolation or in other contexts?
  • How might we adapt our content management system to allow content editors to easily modularise pages?
  • How might we update our clinical assurance process to make sure every section of content remains clinically safe and accurate?

This means we’re now in a much better position to roll out modularisation more widely and move towards it being a routine part of content production.

Get in touch

If you think you might have a use for modularised NHS content in your product or service please visit the NHS.UK API developer portal where there is a guide on modularised content, or email us at [email protected]

Related subjects

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.
Content modularisation of the NHS website will help our content reach more  people via search engines, voice-activated devices, chatbots and wearable devices. NHS Digital Product Manager James Lumgair explains more.
The NHS website team has worked with Amazon’s Alexa team to offer health information by voice search. Eva Lake, Head of Engagement for the website, explains how the collaboration is working.
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Last edited: 28 June 2021 3:24 pm