Use of NHS technology surges during Covid-19 outbreak

Digital platforms provided by the health service are attracting many more users as a result of social distancing and the need to provide services remotely

All the major technology outlets provided by the National Health Service have seen an increase in usage during the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research.

The survey, carried out by nfpSynergy and involving 1,000 people, found that 38% have increased their use of NHS technology, such as apps and websites, as a result of the coronavirus emergency.

From the patients’ perspective, the NHS website has seen its biggest peak in demand ever. The health information portal, which averages 30 million visits a month, or 950,000 a day, has seen visits increase to 61,311,711 in March, with the Covid-19 content page viewed 28,252,103 times.

According to the health service, visits to peaked on 17 March with 3.4 million hits. More than 2.1 million of these were to the Covid-19 content page.

When it comes to the NHS App, which provides functionality such as booking and cancelling GP appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions, there were 119,512 registrations to use the tool in March 2020, an increase of 111% on February, when there were 56,655 registrations.

With people avoiding going out, the number of repeat prescription requests made via the app increased by 97% – from 50,341 in February to 98,984 in March. Patient record views jumped by 62%, from 276,400 in February to 448,477 in March.

NHS 111 online, the system that enables patients to obtain urgent healthcare online, has also seen a huge rise. The service, which handled a daily average of 10,000 users before the outbreak, had 16,995,602 users in March, a daily average of 548,245. On 17 March, the service recorded 950,000 users, according to the NHS.

NHS Digital load-tested the 111 service to ensure it could cope with a 12-fold increase over the highest peak usage the service had experienced. “Nothing is different in a crisis,” said Sarah Wilkinson, CEO of NHS Digital, in an interview wit Computer Weekly last month. “You still need whole-system thinking, but you have to do it fast.”

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When it comes to technology used by healthcare workers, there was also a big increase across all the major platforms. For example, the Electronic Prescribing Service saw the number of nominations received by pharmacies from prescribers rise by over 1.25 million from 33.27 million on 28 February to 34.52 million on 27 March. By comparison, the previous four-week period saw an increase of 304,000.

There was also a rise in use of Microsoft Teams, which was recently made available to NHS organisations for free for a limited period, to tackle the increased risks associated with the outbreak.

The roll-out of the messaging tool was completed for all NHSmail users on 20 March. According to the NHS, it was used to facilitate 973,072 private online chats from 22-28 March. The number rose from 6,804 on 22 March to a peak of 243,927 on 26 March.

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