This site is intended for health professionals only

Avoid the term ‘online consultation’ on your practice website, says NHS England guide

by Beth Gault
14 November 2022

Share this article

Practices should avoid using the phrases ‘online consultation’, ‘practice’ and ‘triage’ on their websites because they can be misunderstood by patients, according to a new NHS England guide.

The guide for surgeries and PCNs, called Creating a highly usable and accessible GP website for patients, intends to help improve patient satisfaction and reduce the burden on receptionists and clinical staff by allowing patients to ‘effectively self-serve’.

Its recommendations were based on user testing with 102 patients with low to moderate digital confidence.

One recommendation was for practices not to use the term online consultation ‘anywhere on a GP website’, and instead use the phrase ‘request an appointment online’ to avoid confusion.

The guide explained that ‘online consultation’ can be misleading. It is often used to link to an online consultation form for patients to fill out about symptoms but implies it will lead to a consultation with a doctor online. Out of 100 users asked what the term ‘online consultation’ meant, 83% didn’t know or were unsure.

The guide said: ‘Using a form or answering a series of questions around symptoms is often a new concept to patients. 

‘Our research showed the term ‘online consultation’ is unfamiliar to patients and is misleading, implying they are going to have a consultation with a doctor online (rather than complete a form).’

Meanwhile the word, ‘consultation’ should be used when referring to all contacts with a doctor or healthcare professional, regardless of channel. For example, ‘Our doctors may consult with you face-to-face, by phone, by video call or by text or email’.

The guide also recommended using the word ‘surgery’ rather than ‘practice’ as it is a ‘more familiar’ to patients.

The word ‘triage’ is on the list to avoid too. So instead of, ‘Your request will be triaged,’ it would be better to use a sentence such as, ‘We will look at the information you give us and decide the most suitable person for you to see and when they are available.’

The guidance covers a wide range of areas for making websites as user friendly as possible, including how many items should be on the main menu, where to have links, what to link to, how to make sections more accessible for those with cognitive disabilities, and how to test a site to assess its overall usability.

The guide said: ‘GP websites no longer exist just to display information, they are becoming places where patients can complete tasks. This shift to being places where you can provide services makes websites a valuable tool for practices and worthy of time and effort to ensure they are optimised.

‘The website should help the practice to provide care to its patients and should be integral to its approach, not seen as separate.’

A study last year found that three-quarters of GP practice websites did not meet readability standards.