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Practice managers need further guidance on NHS app implementation, pilot finds

by Costanza Pearce
17 April 2019

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Practice managers need more guidance on implementing the NHS App, according to a recent report on the app’s pilot project.

The pilot, which tested the NHS App across more than 3,000 users in 34 GP practices, ran from September to December 2018.

It aimed to ‘plan effective support for GP practices as connection to the app rolls out across England’, as well as to ‘test and improve’ user experience.

All practices across England are expected to be fully connected to the app by July 2019, which was released to app stores on 31 December 2018.

Practice managers within the pilot were ‘briefed’ on the app and ‘given access’ to the online toolkit, however the report found that more guidance was needed.

The app’s project team recommended that as well as more ‘awareness’ of existing guidance, practice managers should be provided with ‘guidance on best practice’ for naming appointments, online booking and promoting the app.
This follows the news that the pilot had ‘no negative impact’ on practices.
‘Confidence and motivation’ needed
The report revealed that less than half of users were able to understand the names of the appointments displayed in the app at ‘nearly all practices’.

More than two-thirds of users reported that the appointments section of the app was ‘full of jargon’ and acronyms, according to the report, while practices were ‘mostly unaware’ of any confusion.

It adds that the NHS App team is ‘working closely’ with the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners ‘to explore how appointment naming can be improved across practices.’

The pilot also found that some users were ‘disappointed’ by appointment availability.

It said: ‘Some users were disappointed with the appointment slots that were available for booking and had expected more options. Others were frustrated that their specific doctor was not available.’

The report added that practice managers needed ‘confidence and motivation to make more appointments available for online booking’.

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It said: ‘[Practices need] information about how their work promoting the app is leading to sign ups and positive results’.
‘Delays’ due to practice demands
The report found that although the practice managers at the pilot practices were ‘keen’ to promote the app, practice demands caused delays with implementation.

It said: ‘Running the practice and other priorities meant that in some cases delays occurred with setting a start date’.

The report added that some practices were quick to advertise the app on their websites and in their waiting rooms but ‘many took a few weeks to do this’.
Prepare ‘before promoting’
Practices need to be ‘engaged early and clearly’, according to the findings of the pilot.

The report said: ‘Practices need to look at appointment naming and availability before being connected to the app to help ensure that patients have a positive experience in the app from the first time they download it.’

The NHS Digital website adds that as well as preparing systems, practices should ensure staff are briefed ‘so they are able to support patients before promoting the app to patients’.
New guidance issued
New support materials have now been issued as part of NHS Digital’s online toolkit to help practice managers prepare their systems and staff for connection to the app, as a result of the pilot’s findings.

The guidance recommends practice managers make appointments that can already be booked over the phone bookable online in order to save practice staff time.

It adds: ‘During the pilot we found that patients would continue to call in, rather than use the app, if there were fewer appointments available to book online.’

The GP contract five-year framework, published on 31 January, states that ‘all practices will ensure at least 25% of appointments are available for online booking by July 2019.’

The toolkit also includes specific instructions on how to modify appointment availability and names in different clinical systems TPP SystmOne and EMIS.
Other key recommendations of the report included that practice managers need:

  • A demonstration of the app and clear communication on its features
  • Awareness of significant scheduled changes to the app
  • Knowledge of the support available for staff and patients
  • The ability to easily send text messages to large groups of patients
  • Flexibility from the CCG, app team and NHS England to promote the app to specific patient groups as best fits their practice population

The report added that ‘further best practice’ will be added to the toolkit in the coming months, including case studies to ‘inspire practices to integrate the NHS App into their practices’.

Practice staff across England will also be invited to a series of webinars between April and July 2019 as part of a campaign to ensure practices are ‘ready’ before they promote the app to patients.

The report added that a dashboard is in development that will enable practice managers to monitor app registration for their practice as well as ‘use of some of the core functions’.

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