Methods and key findings
During the pilot each of the 34 practices was visited by a member of the NHS England ‘Empower the Person’ implementation team to help them prepare. The team provided them with staff and patient promotional materials and additional support as required.
We conducted research through phone calls and visits to the pilot practices. Practice staff were encouraged to discuss their feedback on the NHS App and pilot at team meetings and to submit their feedback using a web form, or via their implementation team contact. A baseline interview was conducted with 16 practices which will be helpful to track changes over time as the NHS App becomes more established.
The main themes from the research were:
- During the NHS App pilot there was no noticeable negative impact on the practices involved.
- Practice managers felt reception staff didn’t need specific incentives to mention the NHS App to patients; they just needed reminding to develop the routine.
- Reception staff were often enthusiastic to promote the NHS App, and felt proud to be the first in the country to offer it.
- Some practices needed to learn a new process so they could provide patients with the details they needed to register (if the patient could not, or did not want to use the NHS login registration route in the NHS App).
- Practice staff felt more confident to promote the app once they had seen a video of its functionality or had downloaded it and set up an account for their ‘dummy’ or ‘test patient’.
Launch: when text messages were sent to all patients
GP practices have different contracts or arrangements in place for sending text messages to patients. Nearly all of the practices we selected to take part in the pilot could send text messages to patients. However, the practices were frequently delayed in sending text messages out as they had challenges liaising with third-party providers for their text service, or it was an entirely new process for a staff member.
After sending text messages, a couple of practices received a few patient calls enquiring if the message was genuine.
Some practices quickly put up posters in their waiting rooms and added content to their websites about the NHS App, but many took a few weeks to do this.
What do practices need?
- the ability to easily send text messages to large groups of patients
- awareness of how to send text messages and the length of time it takes to do it
- clear guidance and templates on how to promote the NHS App on their websites, in the practice and in the community
App live: Practice experience during the pilot
Some practices had concerns that sending text messages to large groups of patients would lead to a large number of unnecessary enquiries. However, this did not materialise and the NHS App had no significant negative impact on the practices.
Some practices were frustrated that there was no dedicated support phone line for patients as they expected a service that manages the sign-up for online services should have this. There was a support phone line open throughout the pilot for practice staff, but it only received one phone call.
Practices were mostly unaware of how their appointment names were being displayed to patients in the NHS App and other third party apps and that there was patient confusion.
What do practices need?
- awareness of how their appointment names are being shown, guidance on best practice for appointment naming, and guidance on how to modify them in their clinical systems, as this is not otherwise prioritised
- promotional materials that explain the benefits of the NHS App to patients that visit the practice
- flexibility from the Clinical Commissioning Group, the app team and NHS England to promote the NHS App to specific patient groups, and in ways that make sense to their practice population