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A third of GP websites inadequate, finds research

by Julie Griffiths
24 May 2023

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Nearly a third of GP practice websites are difficult for patients to use, research presented at the Westminster Health Forum earlier this month has found.

Research organisation Future Health conducted assessments of 120 GP websites last Autumn against eight criteria, such as ease of navigation, functionality and up-to-date information. Almost a third – 31% – were rated as inadequate, Richard Sloggett, programme director at Future Health, told delegates at the ‘The future for general practice and primary care in England’ conference.

Only 20% of websites achieved a top rating, while 2% failed to meet any core criteria.

If the findings from the sample were replicated nationally, over 10.5 million patients in England would have no access to an adequate and functional GP website, the study found.  And 680,000 patients would be using GP websites that do not meet basic needs.

Mr Sloggett said: ‘GP websites are receiving increasing traffic but as this research shows, many need upgrading to support better patient care and to alleviate system pressures.’

He added that it was important to open as many routes as possible for patients to access the information and care they need.

Doing so would benefit patients by giving them easier access to services and better signposting. And it would help GP practices by reducing unnecessary telephone calls and appointments.

The research found that:

  • 34% of GP practice websites did not offer any remote consultations – either phone or video – or failed to include this information on their website
  • Only 18% offered both telephone and video consultations
  • 68% of websites analysed did not provide comprehensive signposting to other local NHS services, such as pharmacies and NHS 111
  • 40% of practices had no information on vaccinations, including Covid and flu vaccinations
  • Only 13% of websites had adequate screening and vaccination information.

The findings tally with national figures in the GP patient survey, which revealed that more than a third of patients said their GP practice website was either not very easy or not at all easy to use.

The Future Health research made recommendations for improving the usability of GP websites for patients, such as offering the ability to book appointments without having to phone the practice (see box).

It said that an urgent targeted investment was required to deliver the upgrades needed to GP websites at an estimated cost of £5-10m.

Meanwhile, a separate study has found that two-thirds of GP surgery websites have accessibility errors, potentially excluding one-in-five people in the UK with disabilities and access needs.

The research found 66% have at least one fault based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards, which is a set of guidelines all public sector bodies must meet as required by the government since 2018.

The most common errors on GP surgeries’ websites include poorly colour-contrasting text, empty links, empty buttons, and missing headings.  These problems make it difficult for people with low vision and those using assistive technology to access websites.

Last year, Management in Practice reported on NHS England advice that practices use the phrase ‘request an online appointment’ rather than ‘online consultation’ to help avoid patient confusion.

It was a recommendation in NHS England guidance, Creating a highly usable and accessible GP website for patients.

Recommendations on how to improve GP practice websites

The Future Health research report suggested the following updates would enhance the usability of GP practice websites for patients:

  • Improving access to a secure platform where patients can book appointments, order repeat prescriptions or request a fit note without having to telephone the practice
  • Linking through to comprehensive health information and advice, including on vaccination and screening
  • Signposting to local NHS services, such as pharmacies, which may be more appropriate for a patient wishing to self-refer
  • Offering more appointment options such as video consultations, particularly given the limited practice opening times for those patients who work full time.