A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about GP websites and posed the question ‘GP Websites – just what is their primary purpose? In it, I attempted to describe all of the challenges that practices faced and why it was often a job for the ‘to do list’.
Little did we know then that over the next 18m, these websites would become so central to patients accessing the NHS via their GP. With the Covid19 restrictions and subsequent lockdowns, often the only place where people could find information about how to access the NHS, was via their GP website or a practice social media account.
Many practices quickly uploaded details of what to do if you might have covid, how to access services and introduced many new alternatives, such as online consultations and signposting to useful nhs.uk and gov.uk covid advice. Yet many practices still haven’t updated their core content or capitalised on this opportunity to engage with people in a different way. The time has long passed where we rely on the posters in the surgery and there are some great examples where practices send out weekly updates of common enquiries, either by large scale messaging and/or via social media. But as the restrictions are lifted, some sites still contain out of date service details, (despite services being decommissioned) – for example covid ‘red hub’ assessment centres.
I’m not at all being critical of Practice Manager colleagues with this observation. This is back to the many issues raised in the original blog; most likely down to sheer workload during the vaccine programme, with staff working remotely, in isolation or off ill alongside the myriad of other tasks necessary to keep services operational. But I do get asked a lot about why there remains such variation and what can be done to help?
Interestingly, many practices have remained loyal to their existing website provider, despite some eye watering prices, and rather than shop around for other providers who may have improved website design significantly, they are stuck with poor design templates and an inability to update easily. I still see plenty of examples of sites ‘written by the brother-in-law’ who is clearly oblivious to the emerging good practice.
The research from UCLAN (password is uclan) and the NHS Digital Service Manual fed into a technical standard which NHSX released to all of the major website providers last year. This accompanied guidance for GP Websites and online presence created to include all the ‘things’ you should have on your site to help people to find the right information, as well as to save practice time (you’ll need a Future NHS account to access these links).
So, to those website providers who don’t meet this technical standard or follow this design manual – maybe its time to do a bit of soul searching and ask why your templates are still not quite meeting Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 requirements and checkpoints.
At Redmoor Health, we are lucky to support some fantastic teams in General Practice and to work alongside some very understanding NHS Commissioners, who want to help inform their population and to ensure a consistently high standard of digital access for all. Together this lends itself to a standardised approach to GP Websites and several Commissioners are now thinking differently about who creates content for these sites, i.e., they realise that they are no longer just the domain and responsibility of the practices.
The team at Redmoor have been helping practices to focus on Patient Communications throughout the pandemic and we include advice, hints & tips and support about various forms of digital communication. This includes use of social media, smart use of messaging systems and how to optimise GP Websites.
We’ve hosted a couple of webinars and worked with industry specialists such as Tim at GPsurgery.net and Thomas at iatro practice365 to help deliver best practice guidance. Through these sessions we have provided advice on accessibility and inclusion, how to use analytics to inform digital service provision and shared the key elements that patients need to find on your website to avoid unnecessary calls or to get help when you are closed.
This is resulting in a number of conversations across PCNs and CCGs and people seem much more willing to do this collectively. People are now seeing the opportunity to reduce variation, remove duplication and save everyone time, whilst offering populations common access and experience of GP websites.
We have built this approach into our thinking with a new coaching and support webtool for General Practice – the Digital Journey Planner. We now have several creative Commissioners embarking on using this webtool to engage and support their practices, to baseline current experience, deliver consistent knowledge and learning to the practice teams, whilst identifying the key areas where Commissioners can offer support to remove pressure with combined patient communications.
It feels like we’ve come a long way since Feb 2019 – get in touch if you’d like to find out more – just ask firstname.lastname@example.org