With NHS 24 contact centres managing an extraordinary volume of calls from the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began we volunteered our services to create NHS 24’s symptom checker app. This is the story of how we worked with NHS 24 to build an app for them in just five days.
By the beginning of April, NHS 24 was under immense pressure. With NHS 24 contact centres managing an extraordinary volume of calls from the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Scotland’s national digital health and care service urgently sought a new channel aimed at easing the pressure on the NHS 24 team without compromising on the level of advice being administered.
Having worked with the Scottish Government in the past, we were introduced to NHS 24 as an app and digital agency that can be relied upon to get quality products built at pace. And within hours, we were working with them on the solution – an app that helps people to assess the potential of COVID-19 symptoms and take appropriate action depending on the severity of the symptoms they are displaying.
This could mean isolating for seven or fourteen days, calling 111 or 999 and seeking immediate medical attention. By making this information available via an app, this enables easy access to the most up to date guidance with alerts flagging up significant changes in the information to users.
Making alerts easy
The app uses existing APIs to ensure it’s always up to date with the latest information. Importantly, it also includes notifications, so NHS 24 now has an immediate way of alerting users to new information and guidance, which you can access with a single tap of your screen.
The symptom checker is upfront in the app so it’s the first thing you see, but the app also includes a wealth of key information and guidance – everything from how to manage the symptoms of COVID-19 at home to coping with the financial and emotional aspects of the crisis.
We responded immediately
“This was our opportunity to offer practical help at a time of national crisis,” says xDesign Managing Director Ben Hutton. “We responded immediately, assembling a full project team of volunteers. We then went through a supercharged version of our discovery, design and development process, working through the weekend to get everything done. The app was created within just five days.
“Our primary concern was to build something as quickly as possible that would provide significant help to the NHS 24 at a time of national crisis – both my wife and Euan’s partner - work in the NHS. We are all too aware about the need to offer whatever support we can". Less than a week after our first meeting with NHS 24, they were presented with a native app for iOS and Android.”
“Their main ask was to work with the content they already had on their NHS inform national health information website, but to make that super accessible to the public via a mobile application,” says Ben. “In practice, the app means you can get a reliable symptom check and at a time when people are struggling in a sea of information it also contains a comprehensive bank of reliable information.”
“It was a phenomenally quick process,” says Louise Bennie, Head of Digital at NHS 24. “The main focus was around user experience and, given that the situation is changing on a daily basis, ensuring that when we update content on the NHS Inform website, it pulls through to the app instantaneously.
“That fact that xDesign were willing to offer their services for free to the NHS in the middle of this was fantastic,” she adds. “The speed of turnaround and their flexibility has been wonderful. We have pushed that ask a little bit at times but they have always managed the project really well, talking us through how we're going to address it – it's been really good to work with them.”
Life beyond COVID-19
Despite the speed with which the app was built, it’s robust, thoroughly tested and provides the foundation for a long-term app. “This is not just a short-term solution,” said Louise. “Looking ahead, we think there is a long-term role for the app working alongside the website as a general entry point for NHS services.”
Louise also pays credit to her own team at NHS 24, who have managed a heavy workload whilst having to adapt, like so many other people, to new ways of working. “They have been very adaptable, churning through the work at a rapid pace and maintaining a quality which has been outstanding.”
“NHS 24 worked hard to speed things up from their side, even though they were already stretched by the COVID-19 crisis,” says Ben. “This has been a very satisfying project for us to work on and I hope that the app will help to protect vital NHS resources, and provide members of the public with the support and information they deserve. I’d like to thank everyone at NHS 24, and our xDesign volunteer project team; Daniel Llewellyn, Euan Andrews, Dominic Gara, Rory Bennett, Blair Fraser, James Malcolm and Myrto Bennett.”