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Part of NHS App pilot research findings

What we learned from users

Methods and key findings

We surveyed app users before they downloaded the app, while they were using it, and in a follow-up survey a few weeks later. We also received ad-hoc feedback through polls on certain pages in the app, and monitored analytics to look at user behaviour.

During the pilot:

  • most users said they used the app for viewing their medical record
  • ordering repeat prescriptions and booking appointments were the next most used features
  • cancelling appointments and setting data sharing preferences were the two least used services
  • users rated ordering repeat prescriptions as the most useful service on the app, followed by viewing the medical record

The NHS App encourages patients to take up online services

64% of people who registered for the NHS App had never previously registered for an online service which connected to their GP practice.

SMS messaging is an effective method of promoting uptake

20% of patients who received an SMS promoting the NHS App clicked on the link to get more information.

We identified 7 emerging themes from the feedback we received from users.


1. The design of the NHS App is good and it's easy to navigate

The majority of feedback was that users liked the look and feel of the NHS App. 64% of users told us that the NHS App was the first app they had downloaded that was paired with their NHS number and medical record at their GP practice. Comments from individual users in survey responses included:

  • “The app is very easy to navigate and all the information you want access to is easily at hand.”
  • “The app is set out in a very user friendly way.”

2. Two factor authentication was an annoyance

Two factor authentication means that you have to enter a four-digit code that you receive by text message each time you want to log into the NHS App.

Users were unsure why this was necessary each time they wanted to log in to the NHS App and felt it was an extra step that did not add much security. They wondered why it was necessary when they didn’t need to do this to log in to banking apps or other health apps they used. Comments from individual users in survey responses included:

  • “Why do I have to enter a code every time I log in? Then it logs you out and you have to start again!”,
  • “The text verification every time is annoying. Could a passcode or fingerprint like banking apps use work?”

Since completing the pilot, we have added biometric login to the NHS App for Apple and Android users. This means that users can log in to the app using fingerprint or facial recognition if they are using devices that support this.  

3. Appointment names could be hard to understand

GP practices are responsible for making appointments available to book online. They choose the types of appointments they make available, and how they name them. This information is then presented to users in the NHS App, and a variety of other digital platforms.

At nearly all practices, less than half of users were able to understand the names of the appointments displayed in the app.

There were a few reasons for the confusion. Sometimes it was because the full name of the appointment was long and not visible in the dropdown or across the screen. In other cases, the clinician names and time periods were part of the appointment type, which created confusion.

More than two-thirds of users found that complicated internal jargon and abbreviations were used which did not make sense to them.

Comments from individual users included:

  • “Full of jargon! Not easily understandable by the majority of the general public”
  • “The whole appointments section is really confusing and I can never make it work or search sensibly for appointments.”
  • “Lots of reference and acronyms I don’t understand.”

The NHS App team is working closely with stakeholders including the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners to explore how appointment naming can be improved across practices. New guidance has been issued in the NHS App toolkit for GP practices and further best practice will be added in the coming months.

4. Appointment availability did not always meet expectations

GP practices choose how many appointments to release for online booking and what kinds of appointments to make available. They also determine how far in advance patients can pre-book an appointment. We selected practices to take part in the pilot that had a range of availability from 100% of GP appointments to 4 per doctor per day.

Some users were disappointed with the appointment slots that were available for booking and had expected more options. Others were frustrated that their specific doctor was not available.

Comments from individual users included:

  • “Only very few appointments were available on the app and only after at least two weeks"
  • "No GP appointments displayed thereby rendering the app pointless.”
  • “Rubbish, restricted to types of appointments I can book and there are never any available. No point in having the facility if I can never get an appointment!!”

The GP Contract Five Year Framework published on 31 January 2019 states that ‘all practices will ensure at least 25% of appointments are available for online booking by July 2019.’ This should result in many more appointments being made available in the app for booking by patients who have previously experienced a shortage of available appointments to book online. We have also included guidance on online booking of appointments in the toolkit for GP practices.

5. Medical record access was great, if you had the right level of access

The NHS App allows a patient to see their GP medical record. If they are a new user to online access, their summary care information is enabled as the default. If they have previously requested a higher level of access from their GP practice, that will visible in the app. Patients must follow the existing process of applying to their GP practice for access to their detailed medical record.

49% of patients that completed our survey thought the amount of information they could see in their record was sufficient. 52% said they could see what they were looking for. Some users expected the record to include more of their medical history, for example information dating back further or test results.

This issue will be overcome by the introduction of the GP Contract Five Year Framework, published on 31 January 2019, which states that ‘all patients will have online access to their full record, including the ability to add their own information, as the default position from April 2020, with new registrants having full online access to prospective data from April 2019, subject to existing safeguards for vulnerable groups and third party confidentiality and system functionality’.

6. The medical information accessible via the app was good

The NHS App connects users to the Health A-Z on the NHS website, and to NHS 111 Online. This means an app user has the option to look up a named medical condition or illness, or to answer a series of questions and be directed to the most appropriate care.

63% of users said they found the Health A-Z a useful symptom-checking service. 87% of users said they were able to find all the information and advice that they were looking for. Comments from individual users included:

  • “Had a few goes finding the word, but the info was then very helpful.”
  • “The A-Z is thorough and useful.”

7. Ordering a repeat prescription was quick and convenient

The NHS App enables users to order repeat prescriptions. They can review the medications they have been prescribed and select the ones they need again.

In the follow-up survey, 87% of users said they found ordering a repeat prescription easy and convenient. Comments from individual users included: 

  • “It is simple enough to use and much quicker.”
  • “So easy to use! I ordered my repeat last night and it was issued this morning. I’ll be picking it up from the chemist later today. Amazing!”

A new feature is coming soon which will allow patients to choose which pharmacy they wish to collect their prescription from, and set this choice within the app.

Last edited: 3 November 2021 2:24 pm