UK patients able to get health advice via free iPhone medical app, review of NHS Direct app

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) provides a free 24-hour health advice and information service for UK residents and visitors, called NHS Direct which was established in 1997.

By asking patients about their complaints and/or symptoms, NHS Direct seeks to address the concerns of users with the assistance of nurses and cut down on the number of unnecessary emergency room visits. NHS Direct is available through a telephone contact, a website, and since this summer, apps for the iPhone as well as Android smartphones.

The mobile version has been quite popular — the first week after being launched, the NHS Direct App reached the #1 spot on the free app section of the iTunes store.

Moreover, earlier this month, the NHS Direct App reached 1 million patients. The incredible pace of adoption of this service highlights the potential of delivering care, particularly the kind of care that can reduce costs, through consumer platforms. Here we look at the app in detail and learn about why it is has been so successful.

Ronnette Lucraft, the Chief Operating Officer of NHS Direct, celebrated the success of their app.

“This is a significant milestone for NHS Direct and highlights the popularity of accessing healthcare remotely. More people now access NHS Direct’s services online than they do over the phone and it is our aim to continue to provide our services in places that patients and the public will find useful and convenient.

The mobile app is a more discreet and less embarrassing way of seeking health advice for sensitive issues in public or crowded places. We know that people also value the ability to request a call-back from a nurse if it is required, which is why the app is fully integrated with our phone service.”

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The NHS Direct App home screen opens with links to Emergency Calls, the Service Finder, NHS Direct, Personal Info, and First Aid Tips.

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The “PRESS ICE: In Case of Emergency” functions as an emergency call function for those in the UK.

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The Service Finder helps users locate nearby healthcare facilities, including emergency rooms, walk-in centers/urgent care centers, hospitals, general practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, and 4YP sexual health service centers.

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For example, for users attempting to locate a nearby walk-in center, the app describes appropriate indications for visits to walk-in centers. Then, the app uses the iPhone’s location services to help locate nearby facilities.

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The NHS Direct link from the home screen opens the mobile browser version of the NHS Direct website within the app. This website allows for a myriad of functions, including checking symptoms, obtaining a general health assessment, getting cold and flu advice, inquiring about health topics, and much more.

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Here, we demonstrate the symptom checker by exploring information for a hypothetical non-traumatic nosebleed that has resolved.

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The NHS Direct website guides users through a series of questions. The questions start with location, age, and gender, before becoming more specific.  The questions, though, still remain user-friendly (did the nosebleed start after an injury to the face, is the skin on your arm warm or cold when you touch it, is there a foreign body stuck inside your nose, is your nose bleeding now, do you have any conditions or take any medicines that you have been told may make any episode of bleeding worse, etc.).

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In this example, the answers given led the symptom checker to recommend that the user speak to their primary care physician the next day (within 36 hours). However, if the user has any further concerns or their symptoms worsen before speaking to their physician, the app recommends calling the 24-hour NHS Direct phone number.

Moreover, NHS Direct also provides a short synopsis of patient information for the symptom of interest. In other examples, including contact information can allow for a callback from an NHS nurse.

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The Personal Info tab from the home screen features links to ICE Settings, Reminders, and Notes.

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ICE Settings allow users to store information for emergencies, including blood type, allergies, medications, existing information, and next of kin.

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Reminders can serve to help users remember their appointments or even medications, as well as to set reminders a certain time before such events.

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First Aid Tips offer audio presentations to assist users with commonly encountered accidents and emergencies, ranging from burns and wounds to convulsions and CPR. There are no audio playback controls (pause, rewind, etc.) for these tip presentations.

Pricing:

  • The NHS Direct App is free for both iPhone and Android users.

Likes:

  • App is linked to NHS Direct’s telephone service, so nurses can call users back
  • Health and symptom checkers cover a wide range of complaints and symptoms
  • Variety of terrific resources, including locating nearby healthcare facilities, checking symptoms, and dealing with first aid emergencies
  • Free!

Dislikes:

  • Navigation through the NHS Direct website and symptom checker can be somewhat unwieldy on the iPhone in-app browser compared to on a laptop/desktop (as expected)
  • The First Aid Tips do not offer audio playback controls (pause, rewind, etc.)

Conclusion:

  • We consider the NHS Direct App part of an outstanding service provided by the UK’s National Health Service, and agree that it represents a must-have for UK residents and visitors.
  • We especially applaud the symptom checker, healthcare facility locator, and first aid tip functions. 

iTunes:
Android Market:

Author:

Amit Patel, MD

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