User research for the NHS App

Two hands holding a smartphone showcasing the NHS App

Clinician research for the NHS App

Overview

In 2016, the NHS announced it would develop a free app to make it quicker and easier for people to access health services. Among other features, it was decided that the first version of the app would enable people to check symptoms online, have secure access their data and consent options, order repeat prescriptions and book GP appointments online.

I joined the project in December of 2017, after the initial discovery phase, when the team had already developed a prototype and they were testing it widely with different types of patients and end-users.

Unfortunately, research with clinicians had been omitted during discovery, and we found out that they would be vital in getting patients to adopt and start using the app. In order for it to be successful, doctors, GPs, care workers, and others in the medical workforce had endorse and recommend the app to their patients.

What I did

  • Over the course of two months, I scoped and planned the user research with clinicians and care workers to involve them and capture their thoughts and needs for the app.
  • Fortunately, the project team was based in Leeds’ iconic Bridgewater Place, which houses the offices of different groups within the NHS. Thanks to this I was able to establish relationships quickly and gain access to information from other teams to get up to speed and build initial knowledge.
  • I began with desk research to identify which clinical staff were the most influential, and segmented what would be our target audience based on their roles, needs and interactions with patients.
  • Due to their highly demanding jobs, getting access to medical staff proved challenging when it came to recruiting participants and scheduling sessions. I liaised with other teams at NHS digital to get in touch with surgeries that they already knew/had already been in contact with.
  • I called surgeries directly and arranged some of the first sessions this way, allowing more time for senior stakeholders to put us in touch with clinical staff in hospitals and in other areas of the NHS.
  • I conducted individual and group user interviews with doctors, medical staff and care workers in several parts of England.
  • Sessions were done in person and remotely using videoconferencing software in order to cover more territory and accommodate the GPs schedules.
  • We demoed the prototype to them and we discussed their frustrations with the product and their hopes for it in participatory research and design sessions. 
  • In addition, I also supported the rest of the team carrying usability testing sessions with patients. This enabled me to have a better understanding of how the app worked and the areas that people found more confusing or easy to use.
  • To communicate and share findings with the rest of the team and stakeholders, I developed personas, user journeys, an insights report, and other deliverables.
Our team carrying a usability testing session in a lab. A researcher is sitting next to the user and behind the one way mirror, the rest of the team observes and takes notes in another room.
Conducting usability testing at the Research Helper lab in Leeds
The team sitting together with their laptops around a table with columns of post-it notes up the research wall

Outcome

Our analysis provided clear insight as to what would motivate and deter doctors, medical professionals, and care workers to recommend the app. We also uncovered other important risks and opportunities, which we captured and shared with the rest of the team.

As a result, using this information, the team were able to refine the value proposition and refine the UX of the app, as well as create a range of templates and promotional materials to help medical staff promote the app to patients.

From a technical standpoint and from an end-to-end service perspective, the research helped us identify many of the technical obstacles practices faced in setting up their IT systems, as well as other factors that would motivate them to make more appointments available. This turned out to be one of the key points of success, as we knew that people wouldn’t use the app if they could not find available time slots to book. After sharing these insights with the team, we found ways to work more closely with practices to improve the entire process and make it seamless.

The project went through several phases following my involvement, first Alpha, followed by Beta, then Live. In 2018, the NHS app was launched in the UK iOS and Android app stores and made available to everyone in England, and it is still widely used today.

As a result of the research, GPs endorsed the app and played a crucial role in recommending it to their patients.





Core team:
1x Product Manager
1x User Researcher (patients)
1x User Research (clinicians) – me
1x UX Designer
1x Service Designer
Other staff from NHS, Kainos and Sparck/BJSS

Client: Kainos / NHS
Project date: 2018
NHS App website