Apps, Insight

HTN at Rewired 2024: what does the future hold for the NHS App?

During our visit to Rewired 2024, we attended a session focusing on the NHS App which aimed to provide insight into the progress and strategy of the app, as well as hopes and plans for the future.

Representatives from NHS England took part in the session, including Liz Clow, director of digital citizen services, and Rachel Hope, director of digital prevention services.

Liz began by sharing some progress from the last year, including 33.6 million people (75 percent of adults in England) having registered for the NHS App in 2023, and over 52 million messages being sent out via the app across the year. Over the five years, she highlighted that NHS England hopes to transition a third of all interactions made via digital means through the NHS App and NHS England page.

On the reasons why people use the app at present, Liz said that around 58 percent of users in January utilised the app to view records, information and results. 15 percent came to access prescriptions and medicines.

She also commented the demographics of users, with pensioners said to be “the most active” users of the NHS App; nearly two thirds of those registered who are aged over 66 have accessed the app within the past three months.

The priorities for the digital citizen and mobile-first services, Liz continued, are around a number of key topics: keeping people healthy through supported self-management along with screenings and vaccinations; supporting joined-up care through increased access to records; improving self-care through active signposting to therapeutics; and relieving pressure on the frontline via improved navigation to the right place at the right time. Other priorities are to increase the digital adoption of prescriptions through GPs; and to “unlock the true potential” of appointment booking including secondary care and elective care, with a focus on follow-ups.

Additionally, an enabler receiving priority focus is the need to provide a modern mobile experience to increase engagement and usage. On this, Liz commented that a “lot of work” is underway currently to “build out the native capabilities so that we can leverage some of the functionality available through iOS and Android”.

Rachel joined the discussion to share some more detailed insights into app developments, explaining that the “challenge ahead” is to bring together digital prevention services and explore how the NHS App can be used to underpin proactive care.

She placed specific emphasis on the app workstream focused on keeping people healthy, stating that this focus “signals our tilt towards digital interventions that can help people to stay well”. She described the NHS App as national infrastructure, but noted the need to support this national infrastructure “in a sustainable way, with sustainable investment”.

In terms of how the NHS App can go further, Rachel highlighted that it needs to help people better understand their health as well as risks to their health and how to take action, whether that means protection through vaccinations, providing a reminder that a health check up is required, or encouraging them to attend a screening. In this way, the future direction for the app places emphasis on early identification and diagnosis where possible, as well as helping people understand how they change their lifestyle to stay healthy.

Rachel said that the team is putting a lot of effort into improving the digital front door and to ensure that services are accessible. She mentioned that one aspect of this is the validation of proxy relationships that can be accessed via connected services, for people who may have caring needs or responsibilities.

Another focus is on tailoring user experiences, so that experience is personalised according to behaviour and characteristics. This will involve predicting where care may be needed and the most appropriate services to deliver it.

The “latest medtech” can also be introduced where appropriate, Rachel noted, to allow people to increasingly self-manage. She provided the example of someone taking a blood pressure reading through their smartphone, and the increased introduction of signposted digital therapeutics into the NHS App.

This will lead to “increasingly rich data” on what people are doing and what their health outcomes are, to support NHSE decision-making and increase the evidence base on what is working.