A private healthcare provider has launched a new service which it hopes will help relieve the pressure on overstretched GP surgeries across Northern Ireland.
In a first for the province, it is now possible to access medical advice from a GP by visiting one of the participating high street pharmacists.
Patients go online to speak to a GP who can then offer advice on treatment, write a prescription or even refer the person to a consultant.
It is thought the new service, being implemented by 3fivetwo Group in conjunction with MediCare pharmacies, will help to reduce waiting times for appointments to see GPs and will allow people to speak to a family doctor at a time that is convenient to them.
Within a matter of months it will be possible to use the online service from any location in the world.
Mark Regan, chief executive of Kingsbridge Private Hospital, explained: "This is the first online GP consultation platform in Northern Ireland and we are leading the way in developing immediate access to local healthcare expertise no matter where you are in the world. Currently you can have access to a local doctor from participating MediCare pharmacies that provide the service in private consultation rooms.
"However it will soon be extended so you can also access from the comfort of your hotel room, while on holiday abroad or even from home, all via your computer or app on your phone."
Michael Guerin, a pharmacist and managing director of the MediCare Group, said the service proves the value of community pharmacy and is a perfect link with the expertise of the doctor online supported by pharmacists.
"We have a tremendous relationship with local GPs but we know the pressures they are under," he said.
"Sometimes a quick and immediate appointment with the online doctor is just the reassurance patients need and they can get non-prescription or private prescription medicines when they need them."
3fivetwo Doctor Online is available seven days a week from noon until 2pm and between 6.30pm and 8.30pm from Monday to Friday, and between 2pm and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.