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The NHS App - Two Years On...



In early 2019 the new NHS App was rolled out across the UK. It was developed to allow a more modern and flexible way for users to gain access to a wide range of NHS services via their smart device. These services include booking GP appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions.


Ahead of the launch in 2019, the app was trialled by 3,000 users and there were some strong concerns from this group. The pilot group highlighted three main areas which they felt were harming the effectiveness of the app.


These three areas of concern were:


  1. A lack of appointments available on the app which made the the app feel pointless

  2. The process for booking appointments was full of jargon and abbreviations that were difficult to understand

  3. The login process was time consuming and clunky



Improved Or Stagnated?


As the app is now into its second year I thought it would be a good time to review it and see how it currently looks and whether these three problem areas have been addressed or if the problems still persist.


Having never previously used the app, I downloaded it onto my Android device and took it for a spin.


1. Appointment Availability


The main benefit of the app is that you can book GP appointments quickly on your phone or tablet without having to call up on the phone. This let’s busy people book them for example whilst on their commute and pick a time which suits them.


I opened up my app and tried to book an appointment for my local surgery. I checked this at 9am (one hour after the practice opened) and there were only 6 slots available which were for the following day. So I have to admit it was good to see how easy it is to book but I wasn’t blown away by the number of slots actually available.



I did some digging into this to see if it was still an issue across the board or just one affecting the small town in Northumberland where I live.


It turns out that appointment availability is still dependent on the individual GP practices and it’s up to them how many appointments they choose to release for online booking. So in some areas the amount of appointments could be way higher than the 6 that were open to me.


The aim was to make at least 25% of appointments available for online booking by July 2019, but (at least where I live) this isn’t happening yet.


On the positive side, booking appointments via the NHS app is something I will continue to use. This is due to my GP practice running a same-day appointments model with no forward booking which leads to a scramble at 8am every morning as everyone tries to call them and you can keep getting the engaged tone for up to two hours. So here the app will be a big time saver for me.



2. Hard To Understand


The second issue that the testing group raised was that there was too much jargon and too many abbreviations used during the appointment booking process leaving them confused.


In this area I can definitely see that the app has made improvements. The process was really simple, first I picked an appointment time (see above image) and then I was taken to a screen which confirmed my slot and gave details on the person I’d be speaking to. There was also a free text field where I could include a short description (150 characters max) of what the appointment was for.


All in all it was an incredibly simple process with no jargon or abbreviations to tackle.





3. Difficult Login Process


The final area that was flagged as a problem area back in 2018 by the trial group was the difficult and time consuming login process. Comments such as, “The text verification every time is annoying. Could a passcode or fingerprint like banking apps use work?” (source: NHS Digital) were common.


Testing this out on my device now in 2021 I’m happy to report that the developers have really sorted out the login process. So instead of having to do a two-factor text verification each time you can choose to either have your device be remembered or use a fingerprint scan to log you in, as the images below show.








Other Thoughts On The App


As I mentioned above, I hadn’t previously been a user of the app so I’ve been road testing it from scratch over the past week and made the following observations:


  • Setting up my profile and proving my identity was a bit trickier than I thought it would be. The stage where the app tried to scan my face just didn’t work at all (at least on my phone) but fortunately the app offered the ability to record a video instead which worked much better.

  • From a UI and UX perspective I think the app is presented really well. It’s very intuitive and easy to navigate and offers a modern look and feel whilst not being too techie so it shouldn’t put off users of any age or tech-level.

  • The ability to simply order repeat prescriptions via a few clicks is great - especially when compared to what I’ve had to do in the past which involved having to call up (often repeatedly due to the line being engaged) and place my order with the reception staff. This way is ideal for today’s on-demand, time-poor, easy access culture.



Conclusion


Currently the app sits on a rating of 3.2 out of 5 on the Apple App Store and 3.3 on Google Play Store, so it shows there is still some work to be done but overall it’s good to see they have addressed the main concerns there were upon launching the app.


The only area which still poses a slight niggle is the availability of appointments on the app but as mentioned above this isn’t down to the technology, instead it’s down to individual GP practices.


Finally having this app available from 2019 meant that it offered a great digital alternative throughout the pandemic where in person appointments weren’t as readily available. Accessing the help library which you know is full of reliable and trustworthy information on things like COVID-19 is great, especially when there is so much nonsense about it kicking around social media etc.


I personally would recommend the app as I can see it making people’s lives a lot easier and also it’s free - what’s not to like!



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