A few months ago we shared the results of our research on the NHS. And while our findings suggested that the NHS had a way to go in terms of meeting the digital challenge – with an astounding 36% having never used cloud services – we’re seeing more signs that the NHS England’s Five Year Forward View is starting to take hold.

In a blog post last month, Helen Rowntree, head of digital services, NHS England and Adam Bye, deputy director (digital), Department of Health wrote, “with 86% of adults using the Internet, we could do a lot more to provide information and services that are simpler, clearer, better.”

And that’s exactly what they’re doing. The NHS England and the Department of Health has since announced they had formed a cross-organisation team to improve the user experience of the NHS.UK.

Though 49% of UK adults access health information online and NHS Choices, the UK's biggest health website, which receives about 27 million unique visits every month, the last GP Patient Survey from the NHS found that only 10.1% of patients order repeat prescriptions online and even fewer (6.4%) book appointments online. But why? Is this a reflection of the demographics of consumers of NHS services or a lack of promotion and awareness by the NHS and GP community?

Either way, there are huge cost efficiencies available for delivering these services online (typically 80%+). By driving adoption of these services, everyone from the NHS to the taxpayer (you and I) will benefit not only from cost savings, but also from quicker outcomes. And where quicker intervention means a quicker, less intrusive and cheaper intervention, we benefit not only as taxpayers, but also as patients.

The limited adoption could also have something to do with the fact that many tasks such as registering with a general practitioner (GP) cannot currently be done online on the NHS’s 3,000 websites. In fact in many cases information and services on these sites are not joined up at all.

The team knows this transition will not happen overnight. Rowntree and Bye wrote, “a 12 week project isn’t going to solve all the digital delivery challenges facing the health and care system…it’s about increasing understanding of and confidence in a more digital, more agile, more user led approach in health and care.”

In our view, confidence is a huge barrier to overcome when talking about the consumption of health services online, in no small part due to the diversity in age and IT awareness of the consumers of NHS services.

It may surprise many of us who live in the world of smart phones and apps, that there are many people who still have no access to technology, or at the very best intermittent and limited access. To garner confidence takes time and trust, which come from repeated successful experiences with technology and its outcomes. Without access to technology there is no chance of building confidence in that technology.

Of course, over time, this situation will change; however it is likely that we are talking about decades rather than weeks, months or even years. Until then the NHS will have to continue to provide services (albeit in reducing volumes) in the traditional manner, whilst it makes a transition to new ways of delivering more digital, agile, user-led approaches to NHS service delivery.

Fortunately, the speed of uptake and change is clearly now high on the agenda for the NHS, with a set of standards and guidance to help build out digital services on NHS.UK scheduled to come out of this current project – something that will benefit us all!

Be sure to follow the progress use Twitter hashtag #NHSalpha.

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