Avoid the term ‘online consultation’ on your practice’s website, according to NHS England guidance

Practices should avoid using the terms ‘online consultation’, ‘practice’ and ‘triage’ on their websites as these can be misunderstood by patients, according to new guidance from NHS England.

The Guide for Surgeries and PCNs, titled Creating a Highly Usable and Accessible GP Website for Patientsaims to improve patient satisfaction and reduce the burden on receptionists and clinical staff by enabling patients to “serve themselves efficiently”.

Its recommendations were based on user testing with 102 patients with low to moderate numerical confidence.

One recommendation was that practices not use the term online consultation ‘anywhere on a GP website’ and instead use the phrase ‘request an appointment online’ to avoid confusion.

The guide explained that the “online consultation” could be misleading. It is often used to link to an online consultation form for patients to fill out about symptoms, but this implies that it will lead to an online consultation with a doctor. Of 100 users who asked what the term “online consultation” meant, 83% either didn’t know or weren’t sure.

The guide said: “Using a form or answering a series of questions about symptoms is often a new concept for patients.

“Our research has shown that the term ‘online consultation’ is unfamiliar to patients and is misleading, implying that they are going to have a consultation with a doctor online (rather than filling out a form).”

In the meantime, the word “consultation” should be used to refer to all contact with a doctor or healthcare professional, regardless of the channel. For example, “Our doctors can see you face-to-face, over the phone, via video call, or via text or email.”

The guide also recommended using the word ‘surgery’ rather than ‘practice’, as this is a ‘more familiar’ word for patients.

The word ‘triage’ is on the avoid list too. So instead of “Your request will be triaged”, it would be better to use a sentence such as “We will review the information you provide and decide on the most appropriate person to see and their availability”.

The tips cover a wide range of areas to make websites as user-friendly as possible, including how many items should be on the main menu, where to find links, what to link to, how to make sections more accessible to people with cognitive disabilities, and how to test a site to gauge its overall usability.

The guide said: ‘GP websites no longer exist just to display information, they are becoming places where patients can complete tasks. This move towards places where you can provide services makes websites a valuable tool for practices and worth the time and effort to ensure they are optimized.

“The website should help the practice provide care for its patients and should be an integral part of its approach, not seen as separate.”

A study last year found that three-quarters of GP websites failed to meet readability standards.

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