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How to avoid unregulated online doctors

Dr Gigi Taguri

On 6 August 2018, BBC’s Panorama investigation exposed safety concerns relating to online doctor websites using doctors from companies based outside England. The programme discovered opiate-based painkillers and slimming tablets being sold to potentially vulnerable people and antibiotics being delivered across Europe in the face of warnings about resistance.

What should an online doctor service do, and how do you know it is safe?

At a time when the NHS is under considerable pressure, it makes sense to maximise the opportunities presented by the internet to further increase efficiencies in the health care system. Similar to online banking, remote technologies are a very useful way to complement existing services and are being increasingly relied upon both within the NHS and the private sector to relieve these pressures.

So it’s frustrating to see that disreputable companies are circumventing the rigorous processes laid down by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) because their sites employ doctors contracted by companies outside England.

Patients appreciate the discreet nature of online consultations, but they should be focussing more on reliability and above all safety.  

So, what should an online doctor service do, and how do you know it is safe?

1.    Check for the approved CQC logo (and a CQC rating once this becomes effective for online primary care providers after their 2019 CQC inspections)

2.    The doctor should give you their name when dealing with your enquiry

3.    Doctors should be registered with the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) and give you their GMC registration number

4.    The doctor should ask about your medical history as well as your specific condition

5.    The doctor should comply with explicit GMC guidelines on remote prescribing and you may be asked to confirm your identity where appropriate

Yes, face-to-face consultations will remain at the heart of primary care, but remote services do provide a vital alternative for an increasing array of conditions. Let’s not undermine the value that online doctors provide by tarring all services with the same brush.

For more information about obtaining medicines online, click here.