The UK government has recently relaunched the NHS website, an information portal designed to help the public find the health information and services they need. Health websites are already popular with UK consumers and the NHS' ongoing improvements should go some way to meeting remaining patient requirements.
The new NHS site provides the public with more comprehensive information, together with tools to enable patients to access information about health services in their local area. This includes a 'local area' search function, whereby a patient can search for hospitals, GP surgeries, opticians and walk-in centers using a postcode search. In addition, patients can view information about the performance of local services, such as waiting times for specific procedures and 'star ratings' for different NHS Trusts. Visitors to the site also have the option to provide feedback through the Patients' Voice section. Using the site, it will also be possible to access pilot schemes designed to further enhance the level of care provided by the NHS. One such scheme, at the Liverpool & Broadgreen NHS Trust, enables family and friends to send an email to a patient in hospital.
Health websites are already a popular resource for UK consumers. A consumer survey by Datamonitor in 2002 highlighted that 52% of UK consumers use health information websites when searching for health information. In particular, 31% used government or medical institution websites in this search. The relaunch of the NHS site reflects this growing trend for consumers to use the Internet to search for health information and highlights the government's commitment to invest in modern IT systems for the health service.
Future plans, such as provision of an online appointment booking system in 2005, will add further value to the site in providing patients with access to healthcare information and services through the Internet. Datamonitor found that the online scheduling of appointments was the second most desired Internet-related service for patients, after the ability to email their doctor. Some 46% of surveyed consumers said that they would like to schedule appointments over the Internet, suggesting both that UK consumers are open to improving their interaction with physicians through online applications and that the NHS' plans will go a significant way towards meeting consumer demands.