As we move to a world that is increasingly mediated through technology, the NHS continues to look at how they can harness technology to improve their services. David Hodnett, the NHS App Programme Delivery Lead, updated us on how the NHS App is transforming the healthcare experience.
Building the NHS App
The NHS Digital team set out to create an NHS App with these core functionalities:
- Check symptoms and get instant advice through the NHS A-Z
- Book and manage appointments at GP practice
- Order your repeat prescriptions
- View GP medical record securely (if GP practice has switched this functionality on)
- Set organ donation status
- Choose how the NHS uses data
However, the NHS Digital team paused the development of the app due to Covid-19. They reconsidered what would make the biggest difference to primary care; how they could best take away the biggest burdens, reduce wait time, and route people effectively. The new functionalities can be switched on and off at a GP practice level and include:
- Online Consultation: Utilising the third-party service eConsult, patients are now able to submit symptoms or requests for support through the NHS App and receive appropriate triage or referral prior to a consultation
- Personal Health Record (PHR) Integration: Patients are able to access their PHR through the third-party service ‘Patients Know Best (PKB)
- Nominated pharmacy: Users of the app are now able to view and change their nominated pharmacy, setting where their prescriptions will be sent to. They can also see where prescriptions have been sent through a prescription tab in app
- Secure Messaging: This tool helps practices to manage non-urgent communications with patients, therefore reducing calls going into the practice. Secure messaging allows practices to send a short message to the patient and vice versa.
- Proxy access: The development of digital proxy access functionality will enable NHS App accounts to be accessed securely by other named users, in addition to the patient, where appropriate consent is in place. An example of this could be a carer requiring access to nominate a pharmacy; the carer (proxy) can both order the prescription and nominate it for delivery near them, so they are able to safely collect and deliver it to the patient. Proxy access is managed by practices and on an individual case basis.
- Electronic Referral Service (ERS) Access: When patients are referred on to further treatment or tests, they can easily book referred hospital appointments from the NHS App.
With each additional layer of information available on the app, the team have increased the security of the registration and login process with three easy steps.
- Create a login as you may for any other app, confirming your email and mobile, pre-registering your information. The app will then match this information to the NHS record.
- Provide a photo of ID or passport.
- Verify identity matches the ID provided. An individual would do this through videoing themselves either reading out four random number or through sign language. The process uses similar technology to online banks such as Monzo or Starling.
Engagement with the app has been positive across all demographics. There has been a significant uptake amongst younger adults, especially university students who are managing their health for the first time. Equally, the uptake between the ages of 50-70 years is ahead of other digital services for that age group.
Key statistics of all-time usage from September 2018 – February 2021 show:
- Over 10 million personal views of patient records
- Over 75,000 organ donation decisions processed
- 2.5 million prescriptions ordered 
David explained that the feedback has been encouraging and persuasive for those practices that did not originally want to take their services onto the digital platform.
The NHS Digital team aim to continue working on the app to better deliver patient health records, bring on board online consultation providers, develop the proxy space and look at providers to help deliver video consultations.
 Hodnett, D. 2021. NHS Technology: Harnessing Digital, Data and Technology in Healthcare Conference