Observations Medicine and the Media

The doctor won’t see you now: online consulting and prescribing

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7238 (Published 30 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7238
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

Is the proliferation of private consultation and prescription services on the internet good for patients, asks Margaret McCartney

Telephone consultations are second nature to most general practices, but what about online consultations? Some NHS doctors offer email contact with patients, interspersed with face to face consultations. However, many private companies now offer the whole consultation and prescription process online, claiming this to be efficient and popular.

Tony Steele, a general practitioner, set up online medical services through his website, DrFox (www.doctorfox.co.uk), two years ago. He told the BMJ that many routine face to face consultations with GPs could be done safely online. He said, “It should be possible to do the necessary safety checks without interfering with primary care’s function. We are aware that some treatment areas are complex, and we don’t get involved in that. Hay fever or malaria medication would normally involve an appointment with the doctor, whereas online it may actually be better.” The site also provides copious written information for patients.

Steele told the BMJ, “We know that in ED [erectile dysfunction], the NHS will fund only small quantities [of drugs], and most men don’t qualify for a supply on the NHS, so it will likely be a private prescription …

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