GPs now have a brand new website designed from the ground up for a modern, ambitious practice. Our objective was to build a consistent and accessible user interface that would allow the practice to effectively communicate, guide, educate and inform their patients on how to get the best care from the NHS.
When designing the website, we aimed to make sure it respected the different needs of patients, staff members and community partners. We did this by putting people at the heart of our decisions, testing our various page layouts with patients and front line staff to ensure that the different types of information are readable and well understood.
What helped immensely was to set out with our fundamental principles from the beginning:
Being accessible to all with ease of navigation.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) is a great framework, but in our opinion, accessibility goes beyond the visual and mechanical aspects of the website and needs to look at the language and tone, including the placement of repeating patterns to enhance the user’s ability to learn through muscle memory the way the site operates.
We decided to go with the NHS digital front end framework as it already included many of the WCAG accessibility features and allows us to provide a design that is aligned to the trusted brand of the NHS. In addition, the framework provided us with the opportunity to collaborate with a larger team at NHS digital who have developed components that have been pre-tested with a wide range of users, providing us with some level of comfort when doing our own end-user testing.
The hard part was using the NHS framework to work in a primary care setting, as it doesnt naturally fit many of the needs of general practice. Still, through user testing and many design iterations, I believe we’ve found a version of the NHS framework that performed very well with patients and provides us with a foundation for building additional services in the future.
Focus on care pathways and building relationships.
A key objective was to put people at the centre of our design. For us, this means tackling our interactions from two angles. Firstly, the patient wants to have clear guidance and direction on getting the care and support they need. Secondly, medical professionals wish to provide their voice and personality, showcase their interests and expertise, and build relationships with patients and the community.
We’ve designed our pages to focus on objective outcomes. So, for example, when creating a page where asking, “what do we want the user to achieve or do when interacting with this page” we try and stay away from dead ends or unnecessary loops. We follow this rule in the language, for instance, ‘Register as a new patient’ or ‘Order repeat prescriptions’; the page title and links are deliberately focused and intentional.
The website has a heavy focus on people. Staff are encouraged to create a profile and write blogs. Pages include featured images that are carefully selected to highlight the human side of primary care. The language of our pages is in a first-person perspective, where it makes sense in blog posts like this one.
Trustworthy information with regular updates.
Patients have constantly asked, “what’s the point of having a website that doesn’t do anything?” We take this to mean static websites, with pages that act as a collection of half related text content. Thus, pages lack purpose and, more importantly, an explicit action for the reader.
With the new website, we have focused on being dynamic from day one. As a test, we incorporated content directly from our industry regulator, the care quality commission (CQC), using a technique called content syndication; this ensures that the rating from the CQC is always up to date without needing staff to maintain it.
Content syndication is not using a widget but is a deep integration; the objective is for the page to look and feel as if designed with this in mind, therefore not breaking the journey for the user. Now that we’ve embedded the CQC data deep within the website, we can present the information more intelligently; well, that’s the idea anyway.
What are the results so far?
At this time, the website has been live for only 30 days, so I’m monitoring usage and capturing feedback. However, I have already taken the Limelight from being ranked 50-70 for local search terms to the top 11-15, and we’re seeing new website visitors up 50%. Hence, the website is far more visible to prospective patients.
Another pleasant surprise has been the improvement in user engagement; we can measure this with the bounce rate. On the old website, we saw 80% of visitors leaving without doing anything. Now, this has gone down to only 20%, possibly meaning pages are far more engaging with people finding answers to their questions, therefore less likely to leave straight away.
“I spent quite a bit of time on the websites of the PCN member practices and this definitely seems to be more accessible! I’m glad to see the data support this. I would agree that embracing a digital-first approach would ultimately lead to better service for our patients.”Efrosyni Panayiotou – Network Manager, North Trafford PCN
So what's in store for the future?
I’m continuing to develop the content syndication feature to incorporate data directly from the NHS; this will include information about conditions, medications and lifestyle, all designed to support the patient with self-care and advice.
Using NHS content syndication in a website like this can reduce patient calls into the practice by 5-7%, although more testing is needed to find the actual number. Content syndication will be a significant part of how this website functions, so I will provide plenty more details on this in the future.
We also want to work with GP’s in the region. I’m looking for a maximum of ten other practices that wish to trial this new website to see how it works for them. Participants will automatically receive all our new features as we develop them, and if it doesn’t work, they can go back to their old website without any risk.
Finally, we’re looking at deepening our contact with users by setting up a digital participation programme using the co-design method. The program will be a social enterprise based on the collaboration between people, decision-makers and front line staff. I want to make sure we design products and pathways that meet people’s needs and continue to follow the mantra of “Nothing about us without us”.
This is just the start of the website journey with GPs and there’ll be plenty more in store in the coming months, if there’s anything you want to ask or chat about please do so in the comments below.
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