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RCGP issues advice to GPs considering working for online providers

The RCGP has issued new guidance for GPs who are thinking about working for an online provider, advising them to closely consider their safety ratings.

The guidance recommends that GPs ensure the service has been inspected by the CQC, or other watchdogs outside of England, and asks them to consider whether they will be able to access the patient’s regular NHS GP records when working for the online provider.

The guidance also provides patients looking to use an online provider with a list of questions they should ask before deciding to do so.

These include: ‘If you require a prescription, will your medication meet UK quality standards?’

The RCGP publication follows a CQC report which found that 43% of online prescribing providers are unsafe with the companies prescribing high volumes of antibiotics, inhalers and opioids without talking to patients’ registered GPs.

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It also comes after a Pulse investigation revealed several deaths connected to prescribing through online GP services, with the GMC investigating 19 GPs in online prescribing cases.

RCGP vice-chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘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.

He added that the RCGP ‘recognises that online consultations can be beneficial for patients’, but said it wants ‘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’.

GP checklist before working for an online provider

  • Has the service been inspected by the health regulator, the CQC or its equivalent outside England and am I satisfied with the report?
  • Am I confident that I will be able to provide as safe clinical care online as face-to-face? If not, how will the risk be managed? 
  • Will I have access to all or part of the patient’s regular NHS GP records?
  • If the patient is registered elsewhere, will I be able to communicate effectively with the patient’s own GP?
  • Can I be confident about the identity of the patient I am providing online care for?
  • Am I confident that the consultation is confidential, for example that no one else is listening in without the patient’s permission?
  • What are the implications of working for an online provider for my annual appraisals and revalidation?
  • Are my prescribing and referring rates different when providing online care from face-to-face care? Are any differences justifiable?
  • Is it clear who pays for my indemnity cover and the extent of the cover?
  • Will there be any changes to my current indemnity costs?

Source: RCGP