A focus on customer experience is key to the NHS’ digital transformation

Emma McLachlan, Director of Digital Experience at NHSX, discusses our vision for an NHS driven by ‘customer experience’ and what this will mean for the ways in which people interact with the NHS digitally.

Emma McLachlan

It is not an exaggeration to say that we are at a tipping point in the transformation of people’s digital experience of the NHS. Over 18 million people are now registered for the NHS App, accelerated recently by the introduction of the NHS COVID Pass. Over 26 million people are using NHS login to access NHS digital services. And more than 42 million COVID-19 vaccination appointments have been booked through the NHS website. The public’s experience over the last 18 months has meant that many people have accessed care digitally for the first time and - rightly - people are now expecting and demanding more.

We know that we can do more to meet the high expectations people have of their digital interactions with us. We have made great strides in the delivery of the NHS App and the NHS website but there is so much more we need to do. Starting with digitising more of what we offer, such as enabling more appointments to be managed digitally or enabling more digital communication instead of paper letters by default.

Making digital services easy for people to find and use

We need to make digital services available to people consistently nationally, and - crucially - make them easy for people to find and use, should they choose to. Today we do well at designing individual digital interactions but fall down when considering whole journeys, such as appointment booking or access to GP medical record - and people’s experience of these over time. We must start to organise the digital services we offer around people, rather than the organisations that deliver them. We must look at them ‘end-to-end’ and ensure that they work every step of the way.

Customer experience (CX) is a lens through which we can look, to drive the step change we need to see. I am acutely aware that the NHS does not have ‘customers’. Nor are we a commercial organisation looking to grow market share. However, we are an organisation centred around people. Providing a comprehensive service for all is at the heart of the NHS Constitution, and we have an obligation to provide everyone with the best possible experience of care; whether face to face or digitally. In 2021, we must consider digital as an integral part of NHS service and care delivery, rather than optional or additional.

2 people connecting their fingers in a digital system

Developing the customer experience vision and strategy

That is why we have developed our customer experience vision and a channel strategy for national digital channels (NHS App, NHS website and social channels). Our vision is to provide people with a proactive, personalised, easy to use digital experience that responds to their choices as well as pre-empting what they might need. People should be able to access their core NHS information and digital services from one place, with channels that give them what they need and work first time, every time. Every adult in England should be able to view their medical record, manage appointments, easily update their details and receive messages and notifications no matter whether they are using an app on their phone or web browser on a computer.

Our strategy extends beyond simply making transactions available to people, and is anchored around the proposition of being a lifelong health companion to people, putting their ‘healthcare in their hands’. Now more than ever it is absolutely critical we make digital work for people and the NHS in order to support the recovery effort as we exit the pandemic, and evolve our model of care to focus on prevention as much as treatment. We have a hugely ambitious prevention agenda that simply won’t be possible without leveraging the opportunity presented by digital and connected data. We want to give people a view of their health and partner with them along the entirety of their healthcare journey, providing them with nudges and useful ‘next best actions’ to stay well.

Graphic design of people connected inside a home

How will we know when we have succeeded?

We will know we have succeeded when we have:

  • a multi-channel digital experience, giving citizens choice of access via mobile or web
  • a digital NHS account, giving citizens control of their own data and the opportunity of a highly personalised experience
  • easy access to more administrative transactions such as appointment management, enabling citizens to self-serve and reducing demand on in-person services
  • a wellness and prevention service, aimed at supporting people to stay well, tied into the diagnostics and public health agenda
  • digital services which create an opportunity to unlock the benefits of digital transformation for all users; addressing long-standing issues with inequalities in health and care

I am really excited about where we are now; the opportunity and appetite for change has never been greater and we are looking forward to working differently to join up journeys for people and bring this proposition to life. We'll continue to engage with the system, people and patients, and the market over the coming months. If you would like to be involved or kept informed, please contact mission2@nhsx.nhs.uk.