Ask NHS is an online tool and app that offers patients another way to access frontline services.

It contains a symptom checker, hosted by a virtual assistant commonly known as ‘Olivia’. The virtual assistant asks people questions about their symptoms and helps direct them to the most appropriate care that is nearby. This might be your GP, NHS 111,999 or self-referral to Healthy Minds. Self-care advice is also offered.

General Practices in Buckinghamshire are encouraging patients to use Ask NHS as one of the ways in which they can access services. Patients can also access the symptom checker on most GP websites. This can be through the Ask NHS banner or through a chatbot in the bottom right-hand corner, without using the app.

We wanted to understand the patient experience of using Ask NHS. In particular, the symptom checker, to access front line services such as GPs or urgent care.

We ran a survey asking patients for their views on Ask NHS throughout February and March 2021. We worked with Buckinghamshire CCG and the Ask NHS developer, Sensely, to develop the survey.

We asked patients about:

  • How they accessed Ask NHS
  • Their experience of using the symptom checker
  • How they felt about the outcome of using the symptom checker
  • Their overall experience of using Ask NHS

We also wanted to help people understand more about how Ask NHS works.

Healthwatch Bucks promoted the survey through social media. Our survey was available via our website and was sent out by GP surgeries, and to registered users of Ask NHS. We also ran a series of articles on our website about Ask NHS.

The majority of patients told us they had positive experiences of using the symptom checker. They were particularly satisfied if they ended up speaking to a GP. Some people did not find the symptom checker helpful in describing their symptoms and were not happy with their experience.  The report highlights the need for an increase in communications for patients. Specifically around what digital tools are available to them in Buckinghamshire, including Ask NHS, NHS App, NHS 111 Online.

We have made a number of recommendations to Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group and the Ask NHS developer, Sensely.

We will be asking for responses to our recommendations and doing a follow up in six months’ time.

Read the full report and set of recommendations.

Ask NHS Report 

Published on 27 Apr, 2021 (updated 18 May, 2021)

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2 comments on "Ask NHS Report"

  • Commenter said on 30th April 2021

    I don’t like Ask NHS at all. It is so false talking to what comes across as a robot. I’d rather talk to a real person. I don’t trust this sort of AI as it has no common sense and only works on what it’s been programmed with. So many symptoms are common to different illnesses that this sort of AI can’t possibly be able to sort through to find the one thing that isn’t obvious, which is do often the case with human illness

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