Items of PPE and related stock ordered through e-portal in 5 months
Satisfaction from users on the e-portal
Confidence in using the e-portal
Users migrated to the new system within 6 weeks
The Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) is a ministerial department of the government. Its main objective is to help people to live more independent, healthier lives for longer. DHSC sets the overall strategy, funds and oversees the health and social care system with, and through, its 28 agencies and public bodies.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, personal protective equipment (PPE) was purchased locally by health and social care providers through systems that were not centralised. This worked well until PPE prices soared with increasing demand in the face of a global pandemic.
As part of emergency efforts, the UK government provided essential organisations with PPE free of charge. This included doctors (such as GPs), nurses, social care providers, dentists, orthodontists, pharmacies, optometrists, drug and alcohol services, other government departments, local authorities, independent sector providers and a range of other eligible users and essential organisations working across the country.
Providing accessible supply and distribution routes to obtain free PPE and other critical stock helped ensure that all organisations, big and small, could get faster access to necessary PPE. To achieve this, DHSC quickly created a central portal to coordinate and control PPE ordering.
That portal was built pro-bono on eBay’s eCommerce environment to supply free PPE to primary and secondary care providers. The free and centrally sourced PPE was reassuring for many, but some organisations were ordering beyond their needs creating PPE shortages. Just like shoppers panic buying toilet rolls in supermarkets up and down the country, some secondary care providers were still buying beyond what they needed, constrained only by what they could store.
With few controls in place, these over-orders created more shortages, which built more PPE anxiety and panic over-ordering. Learning quickly, the PPE portal put some controls on the total amount of PPE organisations could order.
However, the portal was only meant as a six-month stop-gap whilst a more efficient system was researched and built to future-proof the platform and better suit the needs of the users and providers.
DHSC partnered with cti digital to build a highly scalable, enhanced version of the PPE portal that provides the capability for responding to and mitigating against evolving situations and future health crises.
The platform selected for this eCommerce build needed to be scalable and flexible whilst able to be deployed as quickly and easily as possible to support ongoing challenges from the first portal.
Adobe Commerce was used due to its suitability for quick deployment while allowing for scalability and flexibility when required. The website also uses a responsive design that makes it simple to use on any size screen—an important feature for people working outside of offices and on the front lines, which enables them to order quickly in between their other life-saving duties.
One of the biggest differences with the updated e-Portal on Adobe Commerce is the ability to segment audiences and add user journeys. The portal can be customised so that users see the PPE items most relevant to their organisation, from standard face masks and sanitisers to aprons, gloves, and eye protectors, making the ordering process as quick and simple as possible. Each organisation also has different order limits based on the type of organisation and size.
Please note the mock-up image displayed is for illustrative purposes only.
The research conducted by Stardotstar identified that different organisations used varying terms for the same items. This was wasting precious time away from the front line as users were having to perform multiple searches to find the required PPE due to varying jargon and terms for the same items. This identified a need for elastic search.
Elastic search is an upgrade to the website’s previous search engine, making the search for SKUs, misspelt words and less common terms easier and more efficient. The use of elastic search means that no matter what terms are used by various job roles, users will find the correct PPE required based on their search.
All of our projects undergo rigorous testing throughout the software development process. In order to deliver the utmost quality for clients and their respective users, our in-house QA team ensures that all end products perform accurately and reliably under normal and abnormal conditions. Testing is followed by continual monitoring of software performance, to prevent reoccurrence of any issues and to ensure efficient ongoing operation.
As such, we were able to confidently deliver a well-designed, scalable and technically stable result.
DHSC has deployed a more user-friendly, personalised, and accessible website for users and organisations across the UK. Users on the new portal can access features such as viewing their order limits, accessing order history, and tracking an order.
Over 8.75 billion items of PPE and related stock ordered from April 2020 to September 2022, through the e-Portal.
“With such a vast and differentiated customer base relying on the portal every day, it was important to us that we created an experience that was quick and easy for everyone, no matter their level of digital maturity,” said Vishal Wilde, Former Policy and Communications Lead for the PPE e-Portal platform, Department of Health and Social Care (UK).
During the soft launch of the new portal, the department carried out a survey and received 446 responses; a total of 96% of respondents stated they were either “very satisfied” (76%) or “satisfied” (20%) with the new website while 97% stated they were either “very confident” (85%) or “confident” (12%) when using the new platform.
After launch, the portal 2.0 increased all metrics across the board, to be more confident, we measured them.
On the first website, 40% of people said they were very satisfied, but the second portal increased it to 76% — almost double. We also calculated a Net Promoter Score to show confidence, and we’d hoped to get more than 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 — we achieved 4.5.
The actual outcome isn’t in the numbers, although they are a valuable metric to measure ourselves against and, importantly, to present for the GDS assessment. The actual outcomes will be in the improvements to the PPE ordering portal and the time, money and stress it will help to prevent in ordering PPE in the future. This, in turn, means that already stressed and tired healthcare providers can concentrate on helping patients and leave the PPE logistics to our ordering portal website.
“Feedback so far has been very positive. Customers have told us that they are more confident using the more user-friendly portal. In just over two years since we set up the first version of the e-Portal, we have worked with over 58,000 registered providers and delivered billions of items, that’s something we’re incredibly proud of. We’re well positioned for future and ongoing distribution requirements that come our way.”
- Vishal Wilde - Former Policy and Communications Lead for the PPE e-Portal platform, Department of Health and Social Care (UK)