We’ve written a lot about how we talk to users with real health needs, to understand more about what services we should deliver and how they should work. This blog post talks about how we use other data sources to help us prioritise what we deliver and to help make design decisions.

The existing NHS Choices service at www.nhs.uk has been running since 2007. It provides us with a wealth of data around how users are accessing online health services right now.

Prioritising NHS services to explore

One of our focuses is how we can better connect people with NHS services, so we recently explored analytics in this area.

Analytics show the main route into NHS Choices is via search engines, with 74% of all traffic coming from Google. People use Google to search for health information and NHS Choices ranks highly for many of these terms.

Five of the top ten entry points into NHS Choices are pages for specific GP surgeries, hospitals, dentists, hospital departments, and pharmacies:

1. GP
5. Hospital
6. Dentist
7. Hospital Department
10. Pharmacy

We compared the above top entry points to the top referring search terms, top on-site search terms, and some transactional data we’ve previously identified, to arrive at a roughly prioritised list of NHS service areas that we could go and explore further.

Zooming in on GP surgeries

The top entry points into NHS Choices are the pages for individual GP surgeries. More people enter via a page for a GP surgery, than for any specific symptom, condition, medicine, or the homepage. Here’s an example of a GP surgery page.

This is representative of the GP being the main entry point into the health and care system for most people. It’s also an entry point into some of the existing online services that we need to connect people to in a clearer way, such as GP booking, ordering repeat prescriptions, and viewing test results online. A new service for registering with a GP is also on our roadmap, so looking at GP services was a good place to start.

We gathered the referring search terms for the GP page, as well as looking at the other pages that users visit after this page.

The referring search terms showed us that the vast majority of visitors to this page are searching for the GP surgery name. Some also search for opening times together with the surgery name, for example “Elmwood surgery opening times”.

Data Wall

Survey data

We wanted to understand more about what people are trying to do when they have searched for a GP surgery.

NHS Choices run regular customer satisfaction surveys on the site, so we were able to extract the survey results for the GP pages.

We also ran a second, much shorter survey on the GP pages too. We asked “What will you do next?”, in order to try to understand the user’s intent a little better. For example, if someone was looking for the surgery phone number, and their next action would be to call to book an appointment, we can understand that the user need is not just to find a phone number for the sake of it, but to see a doctor or other healthcare professional at a GP surgery.

Grouping a few hundred survey responses was pretty quick when we worked as a group to identify themes around the things people are trying to do, such as:

  • Looking for information about changing their GP.
  • Looking for things like opening times and telephone numbers, possibly to get an appointment.
  • Ordering repeat prescriptions.
  • Leaving reviews and making complaints.

Although the weightings differed slightly across these two surveys, the themes were broadly the same.

These themes show us that the people searching for a GP surgery are a mixture of:

  1. Those currently registered at that surgery, who are trying to do something in relation to their GP surgery
  2. People who are not registered, but are looking for a new GP

The themes give us hints as to what people are trying to do and areas for us to explore further. Importantly, this work also indicates things that may not be needed in the new service. For example, the GP surgery page currently shows the number of patients registered at the surgery, but we found no survey responses indicating that users are looking for this.

Every piece of extra, unneeded information on a page makes it harder for people to find the things they are looking for, so perhaps this is something that can be excluded from the future service.

What else do users search for?

The terms users search for in the on-site search whilst on a GP page give us some idea of the things those users are trying to do, but are not successfully doing at present.

After a bit of aggregation of different variations of the same search terms, the top things users are searching for from the GP page are:

  1. Repeat prescriptions
  2. Appointments
  3. Blood tests
  4. Walk-in centres
  5. Opening times

These are all things we could improve users’ access to. Some of them are large topics in themselves that will need further in-depth discovery work.

What problems do current users face?

NHS Choices also operates a service desk operation, so we were able to take a sample of the service desk tickets raised against the GP surgery pages.

The main issues raised are around data quality; with problems such as incorrect opening times, out of date staff information as staff have left a GP practice, and incorrect address details due to mergers and closures of GP practices.

As we’ve written before, data quality is a big issue for our service, and we’re working closely with other teams to address this.


We should say that we can’t just look at this kind of data and make assumptions about user needs. It’s important to talk to real users too.

Since doing this desk research, we’ve been in the lab talking to users. By combining insights from analytics, survey data, service desk tickets, and conversations with users we can triangulate in on the things that users are trying to do and design them to be as easy as possible.

What next

There’s more to be done. We still need to access data on how users are accessing online GP services such as appointment booking; what are the transaction completion rates, drop-out points and so on.

We’re really pleased that Kenny Deighton has joined the NHS.UK team as Performance Analyst. Kenny runs the Performance and Analytics team in NHS Choices and their work will really help to give us more insight into how the existing service is used, and what users are searching for online.

As we deliver beta services we’ll also look at how we track and measure the ways in which people interact and engage with them. We’ll define a set of measures and KPIs that will help us to assess how effectively we’re meeting user needs, identify areas for improvement, and tell us how we’re doing against other strategic goals.

Analytics, survey data and service desk tickets are an important part of our toolkit. A wide variety of data can be used in combination with face-to-face user research, to help shape the way we design, deliver and measure new digital services.


  1. Comment from carol butterfield

    looking great over there Joe McGrath and Kenny is awesome.


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