Patients thinking of using online GP services should ask themselves a series of key questions, according to the Royal College of GPs.
The advice comes as some online GP services have begun providing NHS services and has enabled patients to sign up with an online provider as their NHS practice.
The college’s first question for patients is to ask whether the service would exclude the patient if they have complex health needs. Patients should check whether the service has full access to their medical record, the college says and a third key question, it says, is what happens if the patient needs to see a GP in person. How far would they have to travel?
The college says it does not believe on-line services can replace traditional services – but they may be a useful addition. College vice-chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “Technology is being used more and more in every aspect of our lives and general practice has always been a trailblazer in this respect.
“Online consultations can seem like a very convenient option for accessing general practice services, particularly for young, generally healthy people who want to see a GP quickly.
“But the ways some online services are provided raise patient safety concerns – people need to be aware of these, and properly understand what they are signing up to. Often, for example, patients will have consultations with unfamiliar GPs who don’t have access to their full patient records.
“The College recognises that online consultations can be beneficial for patients, and indeed many practices across the country are already implementing in some form. However, we want to ensure that they are being implemented in a way that is safe for patients, and alleviates pressures in general practice and across the NHS.”
He added: “We also think that online consultations should be provided in addition to traditional services, not instead of them. “