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Are you ready to be a digital first patient?

Source: NHE: Jul/Aug 19

NHSX is here, and brings with it a vision to digitally transform the NHS, starting with the NHS App. Tara Donnelly, NHSX’s new chief digital officer, reports.

The NHS is seeing more people than ever before. Within primary care, everyone across the country can now access appointments with doctors, nurses and other members of the general practice team in the evenings and at weekends – providing an estimated nine million additional appointments per year at a time that is convenient for patients. 

Against this increasing demand for NHS services and the changing needs of the general public, NHSX, with its partner NHS Digital, will deliver a digital transformation of the NHS. This transformation will deliver some of the most important changes to the healthcare system over the next decade. 

NHSX, operating as a joint unit across the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care, seeks to protect and 'futureproof' the NHS by enabling or freeing-up resources for a vast range of improvements; from joined up care across different care settings to the provision of the technology staff and patients need. 

The very start of this plan is the creation of a ‘digital front door to the NHS’ through the NHS App. The global take-up of smartphones is an astonishing example of rapid digital spread and there are now more phones than people on the planet. More than eight in 10 UK adults possess one, two out of three visitors to NHS.UK do so with a smartphone and half access healthcare information online. We owe it to patients to unlock the smartphone in their pocket to create meaningful improvements in both access to and experience of NHS healthcare. 

However, the majority of people - three quarters - do not currently use their phone, tablet or desktop to book an appointment at their GP practice. This was a real driver for the creation of the NHS App. That’s why we are greatly encouraged to see that 61% of those currently using the NHS App have never used any form of digital primary care services before, so we know that we are reaching new people who are now discovering the benefits of digital access. 

Thanks to brilliant teamwork across the NHS, and strong support from practice managers, 95% of practices covering 96% of the population are now connected to the NHS App. 

Once the process of connecting all of the practices is complete, potentially every patient in England, whether in a rural or an inner-city area, east or west, will be able to use the NHS App in a consistent way. Using it to book and cancel their general practice appointments, view their primary care summary record and manage their repeat prescriptions, as well as symptom checking, 111 Online and recording their organ donation preferences.

C. John NguyenPA ArchivePA Images

Image: © John Nguyen PA Images

To ensure that the process is safe, secure and convenient, user input has helped to shape the usability and accessibility of the NHS App, while the new NHS login process provides a robust online identity approval process. To increase convenience and security further, NHS login is also interoperable with smartphone biometrics such as Touch ID, fingerprint or facial recognition. 

Within the general practice team, reception staff will be among the first to notice the benefits of the increased uptake of the NHS App. Early evidence suggests that the NHS App is most frequently used to book GP appointments at 8am. This is not surprising as a frequent request made during the NHS App’s testing phase was a tool to help people ‘avoid the 8am scramble for an appointment’ with descriptions of trying to get through on an engaged phone line. While the NHS App won’t suddenly ease the supply versus demand pressures on obtaining GP appointments, and its effectiveness relies upon practices making sufficient numbers of appointments available to book online, it can ease some of the peak-time pressures on reception staff, helping them and patients. Repeat prescription ordering through the NHS App tends to be mid-morning with another spike in the evening. 

There is clearly strong appetite for people to be more informed about their health, care and treatment as viewing of primary care records is the most popular single activity on the NHS App. Record viewing is one key element in empowering people to manage their health and wellbeing. 

Potentially, in the longer term, other areas of the NHS could feel the benefits too as we see that access to 111 Online increases after 5pm. We’ve had some great spontaneous feedback too, including from a son whose mother was asked about her quite extensive medication by a community clinician and was unable to remember all the details. She pulled out her phone and there was the complete list. The clinician was amazed and delighted, as were the family. Someone else contacted us after they gave blood and needed their immunisation dates – all on their primary care record accessed through the NHS App. 

To truly achieve the ‘digital front door’ vision, the NHS App will deliver a consistent route to access information, advice and support, with NHS login providing robust and secure access to the NHS App. Work is ongoing to enable interoperability between both NHS login and the NHS App with the range of fantastic digital products available now and that will be available in the future, giving people access to a growing body of digital options that can help them manage their own health and wellbeing. And in this way, the NHS App will provide people with access to the right care and information they need at the right time, wherever they happen to be. 

For more information

Tw: @tara_donnelly1



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