In May 2019 the new NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould announced that the much-lauded NHS app would continue in its aim to be the ‘front door’ to the NHS. However, the greater concern was the fact that NHSX also announced the app would have limited functionality.
For those unfamiliar with NHSX, they are the organisation tasked with overseeing digital transformation in the NHS. The initial hope for the app was to incorporate many different patient-care functions. Unfortunately, the threat of legal action from private vendors incensed at the prospect of an anti-competitive policy that could unfairly disadvantage any future business with the NHS has reduced the appetite of NHSX to increase app capability.
With this shift in focus, Matthew Gould seems to have inherited a poisoned chalice: the app, going from ‘all singing all dancing’ as he put it, to barely hobbling along. For example, recently the NHS app has ditched several apps from its library including popular patient engagement apps to encourage healthy living such as ‘couch to 5k’.
The current functions the app has for patients are:
- The ability to book and manage appointments at their GP practice
- Order their repeat prescriptions
- View their GP medical record securely
- Register as an organ donor
- Choose whether the NHS uses their data for research and planning.
So, what changes could be made to the app’s functionality and usage? Something which would improve the patient experience without plundering the limited resources at the disposal of NHSX or stepping on the toes of private firms looking to work with the NHS.
The NHS needs to move away from reactive and on to proactive medicine. In short, patient information should be communicated on a regular basis in line with any current health concerns. For example, if a specific location has a measles outbreak, this should be notified to the patient population with relevant signs and symptoms via the app. The app is a vast reservoir of potential advertising for the NHS and this needs to be harnessed now.
2. Hospital appointment reminders and push notifications to prompt patients:
This must be with advice on how to cancel or change appointments to save on time and money wasted nationally on missed appointments. These notifications could also incorporate any pre-appointment advice regarding the clinical visit. Countless clinical hours are wasted when patients are not fully prepared eg attending with a full bladder or having an x-ray before their review.
3. Seasonal Advice:
The ‘front door’ of the NHS could have greater advertising of clinical advice on illnesses in line with current seasonal conditions. A good example would be the recent heat wave. The app front page could have information on ‘how to avoid heat stroke’ or ‘how to deal with hay fever’. Conversely, appropriate advice in winter should detail simple measures for over the counter products available to help soothe self-limiting illnesses, such as the common cold.
4. Selection of Preferred Electronic Prescribing:
The electronic prescribing system has been a huge success for General Practice, sending electronic messages instead of paper prescriptions between doctors and pharmacies over vast distances in a few seconds. This requesting service is also available on the NHS app. One of the cornerstones of this system is that patients can select the pharmacy they wish to collect their medicines from. However, this cannot be changed in real time and patients away from their home addresses for various reasons such as holidays and work commitments are contacting their GP services asking to have their medicines resent to alternative locations. If the system allowed patients to select their target pharmacy as needed, they could make these changes and save on countless clinical hours.
5. Enable social prescribing signposting via the app:
Social prescribing is when health professionals refer patients to support in the community, in order to improve their health and wellbeing. NHS England aims to recruit 1000 social prescribing link workers by 2021 with an expectation to manage 900,000 appointments through differing social prescribing initiatives by 2023/24. If you could enable location services on the app, all of the potential availability for these support groups in a patients’ location could be offered via this medium without wasting funds on employing individuals.
The above are just some of the potential uses the app could have without exhausting the limited resources of NHSX. At a time when digitalisation of the NHS is at the forefront of many initiatives to improve healthcare whilst reducing costs, we cannot afford to miss out on simple opportunities that are within our capability.
Anyone who has recently used the app will be very impressed with the two-factor authentication and the now streamlined and fast registration process which patients previously used to complain about. The app certainly is something for NHSX to be very proud of as it is already encouraging the type of app functionality that enriches and empowers the patient experience.
The aim is not to have an ‘all singing all dancing’ product but at least one that trots.