From the end of October, each GP practice in England will have its own open space page on the new NHS Choices online service. Coined "MySpace for GPs", practice managers will be able to edit and update their own web pages on www.nhs.uk
NHS Choices aims to provide a personalised service that acts as an online "front door" to the NHS. Readers will be able to access high-quality information that allows them to find key details about local GP practices and hospitals, and read a broad range of articles on how to maintain their health and wellbeing.
The data imported from the old nhs.uk site is inaccurate. Until now, GP practices have not had the opportunity to place the information directly onto NHS Choices, and have relied on their Primary Care Trusts to input data.
A template for each practice to fill in will mean that patients can read the most up-to-date details about surgery opening times, access for new patients, available services, appointments and biographies of staff. Practice managers can also upload their own patient satisfaction surveys. Selected Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) indicators and the national patient survey will be uploaded centrally onto the site.
As with MySpace, practices will be able to upload photos and videos onto their own page, and will have the opportunity to explain to patients – and potential patients – the strengths and aims of their services.
A comprehensive online guide to every GP practice in England will be a major boost to the information available to the public on local health services. Over the next few months, NHS Choices will expand its service directories to include information about other primary care services, such as dentists and sexual health clinics.
From the middle of October, practice managers across England will receive an invitation from NHS Choices to take over the control of their own data. This will involve a simple registration to validate practice identity, and access will be provided via a secure login. There will be a two-week transition period before the new pages are live for the public to view. During this two-week period, however, practices will be able to test their new web pages on an alternative web domain.
NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) is also designed to provide patients with access to the best information about conditions and treatments by unlocking the doors to the extensive NHS library, one of the world's largest such resources. It will enable patients, doctors, and carers to make informed decisions about health treatments and services.
We know that GPs are increasingly consulting with patients who wish to discuss information they have obtained from an internet site or a newspaper, which is often of questionable accuracy. By providing accredited information, NHS Choices will help people to understand their own health and make important personal decisions in conjunction with their doctors.
The new service is developing, and it is far from perfect or the finished product. Online health services will not, and should never, replace the real thing. However, NHS Choices offers to patients and healthcare professionals an extensive information service that sets out to inform, educate and, importantly, to contribute to the creation of a genuinely personalised NHS service in the future.
For NHS Choices, go to www.nhs.uk