Exclusive GP practices are being offered video consultation technology for free by a private provider in exchange for ‘communication’ with NHS patients by the company about its prescription services.
Now Healthcare Group, which currently offers private online GP consultations through its Now GP app, plans to trial the approach with five groups of NHS practices and one ‘very large’ practice in England in the next two months.
The news comes as GP leaders have expressed concern about expansive online providers ‘destabilising’ practices, especially in light of Babylon’s GP at Hand app taking on large numbers of patients in a short time period.
Now Healthcare Group will provide practices with its technology for free through its Now Patient app, which will allow patients to book appointments with their GP and take part in a video consultation.
In return, Now Healthcare Group will be able to use its app to ‘communicate’ to customers about its repeat medicine delivery service, which is also free to NHS patients, the firm’s chief executive and founder, Lee Dentith, told Pulse.
He described the model as ‘win-win’ for the company and for practices. This is because it gives GPs the opportunity to continue to see their patients – rather than losing them to other practices offering online consultation services, he said.
At the same time it provides Now Healthcare Group with access to more people the company can target for its prescription service, resulting in more income from the additional dispensing fees it can charge back to the NHS.
Mr Dentith said: ‘What we’re saying to all GP practices in the UK is you can have our telehealth product free of charge, to compete with Babylon, if you put your own doctors on there.
‘But what we want in return – because it’s cost us over £5m to build this product – is to communicate with these customers ourselves and offer them our services of the delivery of repeat medicine,’ Mr Dentith told Pulse.
The app will include an option for patients to select Now Healthcare Group’s delivery service, but will also allow them to choose another pharmacy for dispensing their medication if preferred.
This means the arrangement will not put GPs at risk of breaching ‘prescription direction’ regulations, which prevent them from sending their patients to specific pharmacies for their medicines, said Mr Dentith.
‘They would not be directing the patient and in no way, shape or form would we ask them to, as this is simply an option if the patient would like to receive a free delivery for their repeat medicines to their home or workplace,’ he said.
Mr Dentith said his company will also offer practices the chance to use the firm’s own GPs, free of charge, to carry out additional video consultations – such as for evening appointments – provided it increases the number of patients using the app.
‘[Practices] can either put their own GPs on for a couple of hours a week and do multiple [virtual consultations] or they can use our GPs, depending on how many patients from their practice we get from the point of view of fulfilling their medicines. And it is completely free of charge,’ he said.
Mr Dentith said the names of the practices involved in the testing would be announced shortly. He said the company would be interested to roll the technology out to further GP practices in the future.