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'Virtual GPs' unveiled by pharmacy giant

By Ian Quinn

The Lloydspharmacy chain has rolled out a network of ‘virtual GPs' at 300 of its stores, claiming the swine flu experience has shown that online diagnosis and prescription is the way forward for the NHS.

The service allows customers to walk in, consult with a doctor from a computer terminal - provided by private company Dr Thom - and walk out with a prescription.

A report commissioned by the pharmacy claims the Government's use of the internet and call centres to deal with swine flu could pave the way for a remote diagnosis and prescriptions.

‘Despite its clinical shortcomings, the use of the internet and call centres for diagnosing swine flu and distributing medication demonstrates that remote diagnosis can be an efficient way of dealing with certain conditions,' said the report's lead author Judith kleine Holthaus.

The Future Foundation, which produced the report, forecasts that 37 per cent of people will be using the web for medical information by 2020 (up from 14 per cent today) and that a variety of social and economic factors will lead to a substantial market for online diagnosis and prescriptions in the future.

‘The face to face consultation will remain at the heart of primary care,' said Andy Murdock, Pharmacy Relations and Governance Director of Lloydspharmacy. ‘But for an increasing array of conditions, remote services provide a viable alternative.'

‘Right now these include lifestyle conditions such as impotence and hair loss, embarrassing conditions such as STIs, contraception and certain minor ailments such as cystitis. But the list could expand considerably in the future.'

Dr Thom is the only online doctor service registered with the Care Quality Commission explicitly to manage patients remotely.

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