Safety concerns over some online primary care providers

  • Date: 26 March 2018

CARE Quality Commission inspectors have found that 43 per cent of independent online primary care services in England are not providing ‘safe’ care in accordance with relevant regulations.

A report published by the CQC and based on overall findings from 55 inspections since November 2016 found that the quality of online primary care services (such as those that provide GP consultations and prescriptions through independent websites and apps) has improved over the last 12 months but further action is needed to ensure that they are as safe as general practice in physical premises.

Among specific concerns, CQC inspectors found inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, including lowered thresholds for antibiotic prescribing as a physical examination was not possible, and prescribing high volumes of opioid-based medicines without talking to the patient’s registered GP.

Inspectors also reported that some online providers were not collecting patient information or sharing information with a patient’s NHS GP, who should have an accurate and up to date record of their previous and current treatments and health problems. They also found inappropriate prescribing of medicines for long-term conditions, including failures to monitor the volume of asthma inhalers being prescribed to individuals when their condition should be regularly checked.

Safety was the prime the concern but results in other key indicators were positive with 97 per cent of the providers meeting the regulations around being ‘caring’ and 90 per cent found to be ‘responsive’.

Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at the CQC, said: “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."

The CQC says it will continue to hold these providers to account and will share the good practice it finds in order to encourage further improvement.

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