Online GP and pharmacy services “second best”

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Doctor and pharmacy groups criticise websites that offer online consultations, scripts and medication delivery

Following the announcement that Qoctor – formerly known as Dr Sicknote – is now expanding its services, the RACGP has stated that the increasing prevalence of medical online services fragments care.

Qoctor is an online medical hub that offers medical certificates, specialist referrals and online consultations, and this week announced it is expanding into providing online prescriptions for STIs, contraception and erectile dysfunction, as well as an online pharmacy and medication delivery service.

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel says patients should not be able to access prescriptions, referrals and/or medical certificates through online systems unless they are being provided by the patient’s usual GP, or a GP in the patient’s usual general practice.

“The big risk with online services performed outside of the usual patient-doctor relationship is that they fragment care and do not provide continuous, comprehensive general practice care to patients,” Dr Seidel says.

“They provide patients with prescriptions, referrals or medical certificates without sufficient understanding of their medical history and social context, which is a safety issue and may also affect quality of care.”

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia agrees that the internet is not an ideal space in which to provide healthcare.

“One of the benefits of our community pharmacy system in Australia is that most people live close to an accessible community pharmacy, where trained pharmacists and their staff are available without an appointment,” says a spokesperson for the Guild.

“Online provision of services will always be second best to the benefits of a face-to-face conversation with a skilled medicines specialist in the form of a local pharmacist.”

GP and Director at Qoctor, Dr Aifric Boylan, has defended her team and website, saying they are filling a niche role for people who may not feel able to visit medical services in person.

“It’s not always necessary for a patient to see a doctor in person to safely access the medication they need,” Dr Boylan told AJP.

“It comes down to wisely selecting the conditions and treatments that are amenable to an ‘online’ approach, and then ensuring that a thorough self-screening process takes place.

“It’s also important to recognise that many people have difficulty accessing treatments they need for a variety of reasons, such as long work hours or shift work, remote location, or embarrassment relating to certain health issues.

“Qoctor’s online service offers choice to such patients who might otherwise be unable to get the healthcare they require.”

Qoctor’s online doctor fee is $19.99, including standard postage for a prescription or medication. Express delivery costs an extra $4.99.

The process of purchasing a medication includes completing an online questionnaire, with questions such as “I confirm that my BMI is under 35” and “I confirm that I am up to date with my last pap smear” with the consumer selecting the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ button.

Qoctor claims it has saved Medicare more than $300,000 in costs so far through offering online services.

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