Up to 3 out of 4 Londoners now using digital tools to interact with their GP surgery

January 26, 2024

Results from a new report from the Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London and NHS England (London) Digital First team indicate that up to three quarters of Londoners have used online consultation forms, the NHS App and GP surgery websites to access primary care services.

More than 3,000 patients from across London contributed to the report by completing an online survey or participating in focus groups. The report indicated that most people found these digital tools beneficial as they allowed them to complete key tasks related to managing their healthcare more independently.

Whilst most patients who responded found the three digital tools easy and convenient to use, the report also highlighted variation across London, with some patients reporting challenges with accessibility and availability of certain features. For example, 43% were not able to book a routine GP appointment online and almost a third did not have full access to their medical records via the NHS App.

The report also highlighted the importance of continuing to tackle the root causes of digital exclusion, acknowledging that some groups underserved by digital technologies may still be underrepresented in this type of research.

Usage of key digital tools

The most used digital tool was the NHS App, which had been used by 87% of people who completed the survey. Generally, patients felt the NHS App was a useful source of information and they valued the ability to manage their own health through ordering repeat medication and accessing their health records.

77% of those surveyed had used online forms to provide information about a health concern or condition to their GP. Patients highlighted that these forms often saved travel and waiting times, although a third of patients found that online forms were not always available for them to use and some reported challenges with lengthy forms to complete.

76% of patients who contributed to the report had used a GP surgery website in the past. Most people felt that GP websites were useful for signposting to self-care and information on how to access GP services. According to some patients, the quality of GP websites had improved; however difficulties remained for others around navigation, requesting routine appointments, and out-of-date information being displayed on GP websites.

Recommendations for improvement

The report also details a number of priority areas for improving the adoption and user experience of digital tools in primary care. It includes suggestions for improvements based on feedback from the patients that completed the survey and attended the focus group discussions, as well as learning and best practice from areas across London.

The recommendations include improved communication with patients about the digital tools available in primary care, driving higher standards of usability and accessibility across the sector, and taking a user-centred approach to engaging patients in service design and delivery. Based on patient feedback, the report also recommends that GP practices consider increasing the amount of time that online forms are available for patients to complete and that they explore enabling more online appointments for patients to book directly. Other suggestions included building in mechanisms to capture timely feedback from patients and making all repeat medications in the NHS App available to order.

Additionally, the report covers a number of considerations related to digital exclusion, identifying the need for flexibility within the use of digital tools to allow for compliance with the Accessible Information Standard where patients have different communication needs.

Discussing the launch of the report, Matt Nye, Director of Digital First Programme, NHS England (London) said:

“This report has shown us how integral digital tools are for people using primary care services across London.

We’ve heard that patients find the most common digital tools really helpful for accessing support in ways that suit their needs, and this provides more evidence for continuing to invest in making these channels as good as they can be.

Optimising digital channels can often provide long-term efficiency savings for practices while improving patient choice. If we can save admin time for busy GP teams through increasing the use of digital tools where appropriate, that in turn frees up time to help people who need to use other routes to access advice or support.”

Amanda Begley, Director of Digital Transformation at the HIN South London said:

“It is great to now have such a rich picture about what is and isn’t working for patients when it comes to digital primary care. With the report identifying high usage rates of the NHS App, online consultation forms and GP websites, making some relatively small improvements as identified in the report could have a big benefit for patients and primary care services.

We also need to make sure digital exclusion remains at the top of the agenda and that primary care teams get the support they need to give patients access to a full range of digital and non-digital options for how they manage their health.”

Aurora Todisco and Faith Smith, Lived Experience Partners at the HIN South London said:

“We are proud that we have involved such a diverse group of Londoners in this project to understand the role that digital tools play in managing some key elements of their health.

Many of the patients we spoke to in our focus groups were really enthusiastic about digital technology, including those from potentially marginalised or digitally excluded groups.

Continuing to work closely with a true cross-section of society will be key if we want to pave the way for solutions which work for everyone.

We look forward to seeing the positive impact that this work will have for people and communities across the capital.”

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