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Blog post

The NHS app: Will it work?

26 Jul 2018

It is fitting the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, is the only MP to have his own app. The NHS is getting its own too. Hancock inherited Jeremy Hunt’s commitment that the national NHS app will be available by the end of 2018

it has taken a while for the NHS to go down this route. Smartphones have been with us for more than a decade. In the UK, 85 per cent of us have them, 70 per cent use them to go online and for 8 per cent of people they are their only route online. That is a little way off the NHS in terms of universal coverage but mobile technology – and particularly its scale – is something the health system has long struggled to take better advantage of.

The NHS app is being developed by NHS England and NHS Digital, driven by a tight deadline. At launch, it will incorporate the NHS 111 symptom checker, support people’s transactions with GP practices (book appointments, order repeat prescriptions, and view medical records), and provide options to log preferences to be respected across the national system (on organ donation, end-of-life care, and sharing data for secondary use). As with health service reform in general, the challenge here is to integrate services in vast and complex systems. Aiming to combine these existing digital systems in one place is a sensible first step, but the future plans for the app talk promisingly of it evolving into a platform with nationally and regionally commissioned digital services on the app. If these ambitions are realised, one could imagine patients getting access in a single place to the shared care records being developed by the Local Health and Care Records Examplars (LHCREs), or safe and secure messaging with their care teams.

There will be challenges in making the app compelling and useful for patients.

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