The temptation when tackling something this complex is to spend ages thinking and prioritising. We can’t and shouldn’t do that. Ultimately there is no right answer (although there are probably some wrong answers). You’ve just got to pick something and start.

But even knowing where to start can be difficult. What should we focus on? What will add the most value?

So we’re starting with two health conditions and two transactional areas: mild to moderate anxiety, diabetes, appointment booking and registering for a GP.

There were a few things we took into account when making this decision:

  • What mattered to users
  • Key priorities for the health and social care system
  • The level of impact something would have
  • The scalability (i.e. the potential of something to be used across multiple areas of the system in line with the GDS government-as-a-platform approach)

We then carried out some deeper exploration (primarily user and experience maps) in order to ascertain whether our initial list of areas were both viable and ambitious enough to take forward for the project.

I’m Matt, the product manager on the NHS.UK alpha. This post will give you an insight into how those early user experience maps helped us to refine our focus for the alpha.

User experience maps

A user experience map was the team’s way of identifying pain points and opportunities for digital transformation through the experience of users. We looked at specific areas, type 2 diabetes and mild to moderate anxiety and depression, to identify potential digital opportunities across health. If it worked in our specific examples, could it work across health?

Our first step was to map these ourselves. Using our own experience and making assumptions to build a basic outline of how we *thought* the experience might happen.

This is how one of our first maps for diabetes looked:

Type 2 diabetes map

First type 2 diabetes user experience map

It is pretty clear that it lacks medical and user input, so that was our next step. We immediately started talking to patients with diabetes and healthcare professionals. (Martin, our user researcher will talk more about our approach to research in a later post) We used these insights to further understand the user needs and also where opportunities scaled across health, not just in our chosen areas.

Type 2 Diabetes user experience map

After speaking with users and healthcare professionals we had a much richer user experience map. That’s not to say we’ve stopped researching, we haven’t. There are a lot more people we would like to talk to. However, with just 12 weeks to deliver i’m keen for us to start prototyping early.

Where we started

One of things that struck us from our experience maps was the number of interactions users have with different parts of the health and care system. We also observed that booking – whether GP consultations, blood tests, referrals to secondary care or other cases – is a potential area of significant opportunity for improving people’s experience of that system. That’s why we’ve started our prototyping with booking.

Book GP Map

Book a GP appointment map

The booking landscape is a complex one. GPs offer online booking, but not all appointments are always available online. The e-referral system offers booking in to secondary care but is a different experience from GP booking. There’s also inclusion issues – how do we ensure we don’t disadvantage those who don’t use online services?

These are just some of the questions and issues we have been thinking about in our prototyping. This has led us to think about how and why users book appointments and how this experience could be improved.

So we’ve started to create some booking prototypes to learn more about it. We’ll talk more about this in a forthcoming blog.


  1. Comment from Chris Bayley

    There is such a massive potential to transform NHS Digital services. Other government departments have already done a lot of user research and development into appointment booking, and it’s important this stuff is re-used where possible! A couple of the points such as: how do we know where to start? and how do we provide appropriate accessibility and assisted digital support? are pretty important (and challenging!) but it sounds like a very interesting and exciting project. Good luck and all the best!

  2. I know it sounds old hat but I wonder if it might be better to start with relationships and communities rather than transactions and information? All the healthcare services that I have worked with put people at their heart and find that too many tools and services focus on process and system at the expense of people and their emotional needs and capacities. Just a thought, probably not relevant.

  3. Given that it’s generally considered the poor relation, but has the largest year on year increase in users, which areas of Mental Health are you looking at? I’d suggest that the local digital roadmaps are a useful but turgid step in the right direction. However, we need something to support interoperability between service types that is a lot more agile and based on an organisational ‘pull’ of relevant data sets into the systems everyone uses. For those of us in Mental Health, sharing data with the Acute sector and with GP’s and Social Care is absolutely paramount for patient care. Looking forward to the outputs of all of this.

  4. […] undoubtedly a mammoth task ahead, and identifying a suitable attack angle is no mean feat (see the NHS Alpha approach for the right idea) . But we’ve got to take a definitive step forward. We can do better for […]


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