Have you ever found yourself on the phone first thing in the morning queuing for a GP appointment, or having to organise a special journey to your GP for a repeat prescription? If you’re familiar with either of these situations, I’d like you to know that there is another way!

I’m Stewart Fishman and I’m part of the NHS Digital team that worked with NHS England to introduce GP Online Services in 2014. We did this to enable people to book their GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and access their GP medical records online. About 12 million people are now signed up to use these services.

There are currently six providers of GP Online Services. Each GP Online Service provider has designed their product differently, which means they all have an individual look and feel, and not all work with every GP practice. This means that as a country, there’s a mixed picture and lack of consistency in design and user experience.

What did we do?

We wanted to see if there was a different way of doing things. We set about testing a new journey where users could stay on www.nhs.uk to access their online GP services. The aim was to introduce a consistent process for patients and public in the UK that gives everyone the choice to take advantage of these services.

To test this journey, we decided it was best to work with an existing supplier and focus on changing the design to mirror the look and feel of the NHS website. After consultation with several suppliers, we chose Evergreen Life.

We only had a short time to deliver so we needed to make sure NHS Digital and Evergreen Life worked as one team. Ways of working together were agreed within the first week: daily progress meetings; contacts; and development and testing processes. Updates to the product were made daily, with thorough testing done in parallel. Working this way allowed us to rapidly complete development in one month and to put the product in front of users so they could give us feedback before we finalised it.

However, the real test and value for future services, lies in feedback from patients in a real-world setting. We began a three-month pilot with selected sites in Leeds, Rotherham and London at the beginning of September 2017. Through these pilot sites and their patients, we hope to understand more about:

  • The value and impact of the NHS brand to patients
  • The barriers to entry and use of the new process to resolve these
  • The ways in which different features of the product are used
  • What additional services and information patients expect and need to manage and participate in their health and care.

What’s next?

This study of GP Online Services will increase our understanding of people’s needs around access to their own health and care records. Personal health records enable people to record their own health and care data, to talk with health and care professionals and in some cases provide digital alternatives to physical services.

We know that personal health records are appearing across the country, but currently some areas are much further ahead than others. Therefore, the team will combine information from this project with work done by early adopters of personal health records to set appropriate standards and guidance for the marketplace.

This will support the creation of personal health records for a range of conditions across multiple care settings. This is a huge opportunity for people to take more control of their own health and care.

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