Patients advised to check if GPs offering online consultations are based in UK
The Royal College of GPs is also urging people to question how much they know about the qualifications of the doctor advising them.
Patients who use online GP consultations are being advised to check whether the medic they are consulting with is based in the UK.
People who choose to use such services – frequently offered through mobile phone apps – have been told to check that the service offers access to UK-based GPs who are registered with the General Medical Council – the regulator of British medics.
The new guidance comes from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), which is also urging patients to question how much they know about the qualifications of the doctor advising them.
Patients should also ensure that the service has been inspected by the Care Quality Commission and that they are satisfied with the inspection report.
Meanwhile, they should ensure their personal medical information is being kept safe and confidential, the college added.
Other questions people should consider before using such services include whether a fee is applicable, whether doctors have access to their medical history, whether they could be excluded due to complex health needs or how far they might need to travel if they are advised to see a GP in person.
The guidance from the college comes as a growing number of online services are being made available.
Some are in partnerships with the NHS but many are private healthcare providers, the RCGP said.
Professor Martin Marshall, vice chairman of the RCGP and author of the guidance, which is available to download on the college’s website, 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. We also think that online consultations should be provided in addition to traditional services, not instead of them.
“We hope this guidance will help everyone – patients, GPs, practice team members and commissioners – gain a better insight into online consultations, and, most importantly, help equip them with the information they need, so that patients are receiving high-quality, safe care, whichever way they choose to receive it.”