NHS benchmarks raising the quality of GP websites

NHS benchmarks raising the quality of GP websites

NHS benchmarks are a clear target for a website provider to aim for as they strive to improve the digital experience for patients. In this blog, we take a look at the standards which are expected and how Silicon Practice measures up.

In today’s digital age, access to healthcare services should be inclusive to everyone, regardless of digital skills or proficiency in English.

Patients increasingly expect to be able to find online information about urgent and routine appointments, prescriptions, to book or change an appointment and receive test results.

And, for patients with poor digital and English skills, the accessibility of GP surgery websites plays a crucial role in ensuring they can navigate and access essential healthcare information.

Going where you want on a healthcare website should never be confusing or frustrating so, to ensure that GP practices are making their online presence welcoming, NHS England has now created a website benchmarking and improvement tool.

The Excel-based tool is based on the experiences of 102 participants, who were assessed to have low to moderate digital and written English confidence.

Their experience of using 10 GP surgery websites for the seven most important journeys, or tasks for patients, was then analysed. The findings became the basis for the NHS benchmarks.

As well as the need to ensure a website works well on mobile devices, the tool covers overlays and pop-ups, plus details of what patients can expect to find under each page heading.

Sites must work for patients and practice

Once the tool is downloaded, the surgery – or website provider – can click on the ‘Web Audit’ section of the tool and assess how the website is working. A traffic light system makes this easy to understand.

Each action is judged on whether the site does it ‘well’, ‘adequately’ or ‘inadequately’. The results provide a clear roadmap for enhancing user-friendliness, enabling a practice to target improvements where its site is not up to standard.

The tool allows practices, PCNs, ICSs and suppliers to benchmark all or most of the elements needed for a highly usable and accessible website.

Working through the highlighted journeys, or tasks, to create a meaningful set of results is something which would take surgery staff some time.

However, Silicon Practice creates its latest Foundation sites to overwhelmingly* meet the ‘Well’ criteria from the word go. As soon as a Foundation site is opened the patient is greeted by the familiar and trusted NHS logo and colours.

It is reassuring for patients that they are in the right place when they see these on GP surgery websites,’ notes the benchmark guidelines.

As well as having that crucial NHS ‘look and feel’, achieving the benchmarks means that patients using a Foundation website will find the most important journeys are already highly usable.
Additional priorities, highlighted as ways to help reduce calls or requests to the practice, are also being met on Foundation sites.

The top of this list is joining/registering with the practice, as this is one of the top patient tasks on a GP surgery website.

One of the biggest reasons for phone calls to a practice is queries about fit (sick) notes. Providing this information and links to the correct forms online, as Foundation sites do, is expected to cut the number of calls patients make to practices.

Standards for a digital future

Benefits listed by the NHS for creating a highly accessible and useable GP website include:

  • Improving patient satisfaction and experience, making it more likely they will return and use digital tools.
  • Ensuring patients are signposted to the right place, without wasting patient and practice time.
  • Reducing the risk of adding digital inequalities to existing health inequalities.
  • Removing barriers for patients with disabilities.
  • Creating a place where patients can manage tasks, which cuts the burden on NHS staff and empowers patients to manage their health and care.

In addition to giving prominence to the site appearance,  so it appears similar to patients who are used to using www.nhs.uk, the tool highlights that sites must support each of the three ways of finding information: through links on the homepage, an item in the main menu or using the site search.

As well as the need to ensure a website works on mobile devices, the tool covers the use of overlays and pop-ups. It spotlights information about routine and pre-bookable appointments, including the differences in the way these may be seen by patients and GP surgeries.

After appointments, the prescriptions page is judged the next most important to patients accessing a GP surgery’s website.

To reach the ‘Well’ benchmark an appointments page must be provided, with a clearly labelled section headed ‘urgent appointments’.

There must also be a clear explanation of all options available and how to access them. Clear instructions on how to change and cancel an appointment are needed, along with links to make a cancellation without phoning the surgery.

Silicon Practice targets NHS benchmarks

Also crucial is the perception of patients and the language used by healthcare staff. Research shows that patients don’t recognise ‘online consultation’, so the latest Silicon Practice Foundation sites, such as Lion Health in Stourbridge, head this section ‘Contact Us’ and the patient is guided to various online options.

The NHS benchmarks are a touchstone for Silicon Practice, so you can rest assured that if you are using a Foundation site these are continually being reviewed to be as welcoming to patients as possible.

One of our priorities is meeting the highest possible WCAG Accessibility guidelines so that disabled patients are not excluded from digital resources and convenience. 

If you want a site which is being rigorously assessed against NHS benchmarks contact us to find out about Foundation.

Meeting these standards now builds a strong foundation for the digital experience patients will have in the coming decades.

Silicon Practice will, of course, continue to make further improvements as websites evolve and benchmarks are updated.

You can follow Silicon Practice on LinkedIn.

*Foundation sites are expected to achieve 96% or better of the ‘Well’ NHS benchmarking rating at launch

post by Bruno Clements