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Feature Digital Healthcare

How online GP services are tackling safety concerns

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 19 July 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3058
  1. Nick Renaud-Komiya, freelance journalist, London, UK

Nick Renaud-Komiya examines how digital primary care providers are responding to the Care Quality Commission’s first inspections of their services

In March, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published the findings from its first programme of inspections into companies that provide digital primary care services, such as online consultations. Critics of these commercial services seized on the finding that 43% of the 35 providers inspected since November 2016 were deemed not to be meeting safety standards by February 2018.

However, safety was also the area where the healthcare regulator saw the greatest improvement over the inspection period, according to its report (86% were not fully compliant at their first inspection)1—and the changes the providers are making to meet the requirements offer insight into the development of this growing sector.

Ruth Rankine, the CQC’s deputy chief inspector of general practice, says, “Patients being supported online deserve the same standards of quality and safety as they would see in more traditional healthcare settings, and we are happy to be working with the sector ... to tackle challenges around this and promote innovation.”

Demand versus opposition

The companies, which typically charge for each use or have a monthly fee, offer services ranging from video based medical consultations to home delivery of prescription medicines and sexual health treatments.

Thirty seven online healthcare companies are registered with the CQC. Although audited figures on the use of their services are scarce, the evidence suggests that there is a demand. The CQC has reported that Push Doctor, for example, which offers video GP consultations through a smartphone app, was providing roughly 10 000 consultations a month with a team of 72 GPs in March 2017.2

Chair …

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