APR 20, 2018 3:47 AM PDT

Are Online Doctors Safe?

The trend in healthcare is to have some doctors and primary care services available online for patients who cannot get to a doctor’s office. While it’s becoming popular, there are some bugs in the system.

In the United Kingdom, there is a watchdog agency whose purpose is to oversee the care these online providers offer and make sure it’s quality care delivered safely.  There are a variety of apps and websites that offer online care, and the goal of the CQC is ensure that care delivered in the cyber environment is all it should be.

A recently published report from the agency looked at online care services in five specific areas. They wanted to investigate if services were rendered safely, in a caring manner that was effective, responsive to patient needs and well-led. Inspectors from the CQC reviewed records of online providers, talked to patients and reviewed compliance with NHS regulations. The results were good in some areas, but there were concerns in others. 

In the category of “caring” and “responsive” 97% and 90% of providers, respectively were meeting the standards. Examples included sexual health services that provided privacy and discretion online as well as providers that could treat patients who needed hearing assistance services or health materials printed in other languages. 

It was acknowledged that the ability for patients to use online care services would improve the accessibility of care to patients who had mobility issues, lived in rural or difficult to access geographical areas, or had impairments that limited the ability to efficiently communicate face to face. It’s no surprise that online care makes it easier for certain populations to take advantage of health services they may not otherwise be able to obtain. But are these options safe?

The CQC  report showed some concerns over safety. They rated 43% of the facilities inspected as “not providing safe care” but also noted that there had been an improvement in this area. The concerns they had ranged from the overuse of antibiotics to poor communication with the patient’s general practitioner to opioid prescriptions and a lack of follow up care. 

Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at the Care Quality Commission, explained in a statement, “New methods of service delivery that increase access to care and give patients more control over how and when they see a GP have huge potential not only for patients but for the wider health system.However, while innovation should be encouraged, it must never come at the expense of quality. As with all health care services, patient safety must be at the heart of all decisions around what kind of care is offered and how it is delivered."

While the model of online care and Internet access to doctors and specialists is the wave of the future, the CQC aims to inform the British public about online health providers and make patients aware of the pros and cons. Improvements in accessibility cannot come at the price of quality care and safety. Take a look at the video to learn more about this healthcare model.

Sources: Care Quality Commission Pharmaceutical Journal Daily Mail

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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