'Complex' NHS app takes 30 minutes to verify patients, NHS England confirms

NHS England board members have voiced concern over the NHS app's 'complex' login system, after it was revealed that it currently takes 'around 30 minutes' to verify users.

(Photo: Shih Wei Wan/EyeEm/Getty Images)
(Photo: Shih Wei Wan/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The app - which allows patients to book medical appointments, view their healthcare record and order repeat prescriptions - is currently fully enabled in 1,500 GP practices across the country, and is on track to cover a third of patients in England by the end of March.

But despite reporting a ‘mostly very, very positive’ experience, board members at an NHS England and NHS Improvement board meeting on Thursday expressed reservations over the initial NHS patient login process.

Non-executive board member Joanne Shaw said: 'I've got my NHS login now... I was a bit surprised at how multi-staged and complex that was - having to photograph my drivers licence and speak into a video.'

However, despite being rather labourious, Ms Shaw said the process worked 'seamlessly' and that she had received her login details 'almost instantly' after completing all the steps.

NHS login

The NHS login has been developed as a system for ‘checking the identity of patients, and their carers, so that they can access medical records securely’ online.

According to NHS Digital, a person using the NHS app is able to prove who they are when logging in by using a ‘trusted photo ID document’ such as a passport or driving licence ‘plus a short video selfie so we can compare the face in the video to the face on the photo ID’.

Board papers published alongside the meeting state: ‘On average we are able to verify patients in around 30 minutes, and we are working to provide near real-time verification so people can be verified at the point of accessing services.’

When asked what steps were being taken to improve user experience, NHS England deputy CEO Matthew Swindells said plans to deploy a ‘biometric login’ system - including ‘fingerprint and facial recognition’ - were underway in response to user feedback.

He also pointed out that 30 minutes was 'less time than it takes to get on a bus and go to your GP surgery' in order to physically sign up, but admitted it was 'still too long' and confirmed that work was being done to ‘take that down to almost real-time'.

Booking systems

Ms Shaw also voiced concern over her experience of trying to book an appointment with her GP via the app. 'I was a bit baffled by the terminology - the way they had categorised appointments and so on,' she told the meeting. 'If I was a bit stumped then I imagine that’s going to be quite a common experience.'

Mr Swindells conceded that enabling patients to book a GP appointment themselves via the app had proved ‘one of the biggest challenges’.

He said that previous systems 'haven't been set up for patients to book initially, they’ve been set up so that receptionists and doctors and nurses know perfectly well what they mean.

'Moving that into a language that is transparent to an ordinary user in some ways isn’t an app problem it’s about how do we get a standardisation of language which the public can use.' He assured the board that the app was being developed alongside a 'continuous process of user feedback'.

Digital-first primary care

NHS England board papers state that the NHS app is scheduled to undergo ‘a very intensive rollout period from April-July 2019’, with a public marketing campaign planned to run from September 2019 ‘once we are confident that access to GP appointments will be in place across the country’.

Earlier this month GPonline reported that some 32 online consultation suppliers had been unable to connect their IT systems to the NHS app.

Babylon GP at Hand - which now serves more than 40,000 patients - was among the organisations unable to connect to the NHS app, and confirmed to GPonline that the problem is yet to be resolved.

Speaking at the time GPC executive team lead for IT Dr Farah Jameel said: 'Given that they use different software, it is not surprising to hear that there may have been difficulty connecting the NHS app with third-party apps so far. That said, we are pleased with the progress made so far on the NHS app – it has been carefully tested and responsibly deployed.'

All functions of the app should be fully available across England by 1 July 2019.

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