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NHSX chief to limit future NHS App enhancements

Matthew Gould doesn’t want the health service’s flagship mobile tool to be “all-singing and all-dancing”

NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould is not convinced that the health service should be making further enhancements to its flagship mobile tool, the NHS App.

Rather, Gould wants to keep the app “thin”, allowing an envisioned ecosystem of innovators to build on existing features and create tailored apps to cater for different patient needs.

Praising the work that has been done so far on the app and increasing patient uptake – despite patient complaints about low online booking availability – the new NHSX chief outlined his plans for the app as a springboard to illustrate his vision for the digital innovation unit.

“I don’t want us to make the NHS App all-singing and all-dancing,” said Gould in a first blog post since his new job was confirmed in April. “In fact, I’m not sure we should add many more features than it already has.

“We will keep the app thin and let others use the platform that we have created to come up with brilliant features on top.

“We will expose the APIs [application programming interfaces], so that other people can develop their own apps to meet their own user need – apps that can plug in, safely let people access their own data and deliver a different user journey.”

Despite the move towards an innovation ecosystem, Gould accepted that the health service needs to “eat its own dog food” and remain committed to improving its APIs.

One of the principles that will guide the new approach includes some functions that the NHS should do itself, he said, such as the ability for patients to set data preferences through the NHS App rather than third-party tools.

The new take on innovation introduced by NHSX will ensure continued evolution of services and the emergence of products that are better able to meet patient needs, both within the NHS and in the healthtech sector, said Gould.

“Before I’ve even started the job, I’ve been blown away by the many clinicians I’ve met who have come up with their own digital innovations and all the British healthtech startups that have told me about amazing products they’ve developed,” he said.

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The NHS App aims to provide a digital front door to the health service in England and is expected to be fully rolled out by 1 July 2019.

It can be used to make GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions, help manage long-term conditions and access the 111 service online, in addition to features related to organ donation and end-of-life care.

A report published in April into the three-month pilot of the app revealed that patients used it mostly for viewing medical records, with ordering repeat prescriptions rated as the tool’s most useful service.

The report also anticipated that new functionality would be added to the app, including the ability to choose which pharmacy patients can collect their repeat prescription from.

The initial findings from the trial also suggest the tool encouraged uptake of online services, with 64% of people who used the NHS App never having registered for an online service connecting to their GP practice.

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