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Digital Pharma: Online health information reduces costs

pharmafile | November 9, 2010 | News story | Medical Communications Digital Pharma blog, Football Fan Fitness Challenge, NHS Choices, alcohol tracker iPhone app, online health information, patient information 

The number of people using the official NHS website rose 10% in the last year, making it the most popular health information site in Europe.

In the UK the site saves the NHS up to £44 million a year by avoiding unnecessary GP referrals, according a new study from Imperial College.

The academics said the website could go further to make other “considerable savings”, and noted that a third of those currently logging onto NHS Choices decide they don’t need to book a GP appointment afterwards.

“The website is a powerful tool for modifying health-seeking behaviour and can potentially have a huge impact on NHS costs,” the report said.

Launched three years ago, NHS Choices had over 100 million visitors in 2010 and the numbers were up 10% on the previous year according to its annual report, which was also released today.

Health Minister Simon Burns said: “Every day we use the internet and technology to organise our lives, and increasingly when it comes to our health. For example, more and more people are taking the information they have found online with them when they consult their GP.

“It is important they can find accurate, trusted information from sources such as NHS Choices,” he added.

NHS Choices in the year ahead

In the last 12 months NHS Choices has launched a series of innovative interactive tools, such as the Football Fan Fitness Challenge and alcohol tracker iPhone app, which was downloaded 35,000 times to become one of the top three health apps in the world.

Over the next year plans for the website include:

• A medicines hub that provides detailed information on all products including over-the-counter treatments

• The ability for users to rate and comment on a wide variety of NHS Choices articles, together with improved social network linking.

• A personalised NHS Choices home page that will allow users to customise the layout and display content relevant to their age group, gender and life-stage without the need to register

• Information on each consultant working in the NHS

• An improved area for registered users that will provide a dashboard of personalised health information, incorporating local data on hospitals and GP surgeries.

NHS Choices recently topped a Which? investigation into medical websites, that said the site ‘excelled for its breadth of information’ and contained ‘medically robust information’.

Bristol GP Knut Schroeder said: “The internet is a great resource for health-related information as long as people can use sources they can trust and rely on. Indeed, many of my patients now use websites such as NHS Choices to look up health related information, such as symptoms or medical conditions.

“As a result, they are often better informed and are in a better position to use health services more appropriately.”

• Meanwhile, The Department of Health is currently consulting on its plans to lead an ‘information revolution’ in healthcare.

Dominic Tyer is web editor for Pharmafocus and and the author of the Digital Pharma blog He can be contacted via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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