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Choosing an online healthcare service

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  • Public

Online healthcare services can be a convenient way to get medical advice, treatment and medicines.

A reputable company should provide a safe and effective service. However, we have found that some services may put patients at risk, particularly when they prescribe medicines online.

Types of online services

  • Online doctor services: provide online medical consultations and may issue prescriptions or arrange medical tests. If they are based in England, and treat people in England, we register and regulate most of them. However, some companies operate in a way that means that they fall outside of CQC’s scope of regulation.
  • Online pharmacy: dispenses medicines. Find out more, including General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registration, in the NHS information dangers of buying medicine online.

Before you consider using an online healthcare service, find out:

  • where they are based
  • which regulators they are registered with.

Online doctor services based in England

You may access online healthcare services that are based outside England.

  • We can only register services that are based in England.
  • We cannot regulate services that are not registered with us. We cannot decide if an unregistered service is offering safe and effective care.
  • Services registered outside England may not be subject to the same registration standards as health services you may visit here.

Services must be registered with us if:

  • they are based in England and
  • directly employ doctors registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) (search the GMC register)

CQC-registered services:

If you are concerned about the medical advice or treatment you are offered, tell us about your care.

Services that dispense medicines must also be registered with GPhC.

Using an online healthcare service

If you plan to use an online healthcare service, here are some tips to help you.

How does the service operate

Check:

  • how you can contact them if you have questions or concerns
  • how they keep your information safe and who might they share it with?
  • what you will have to pay for a consultation, investigations, treatment or prescriptions

Who is dealing with your query and giving you advice?

Find out:

  • who works at the service and who you are dealing with. If they are based in the UK, check that they are registered on the General Medical Council register.
  • if they are registered overseas what are their details? Doctors who are not GMC-registered may not work to the same clinical standards
  • are all the doctors at the service registered?

When you are having an online consultation

Unless it is about a sexual health issue, the doctor should:

  • check that you are who you say you are
  • ask you to give a detailed medical history, including important health problems (past and present), current medication and any allergies
  • fully explain the risks and range of treatment options available so you can give informed consent to any treatment
  • ask your permission to share the consultation with your GP – if you do not consent to this the online service may be unable to prescribe to you

When you are having an online consultation for a sexual health issue

You do not need to:

  • prove your identity
  • share details of the consultation with your GP – unless you want to

The doctor should

  • ask you to give a detailed medical history, including important health problems (past and present), current medication and any allergies
  • fully explain the risks and range of treatment options available so you can give informed consent to any treatment
  • follow the FSRH-BASHH standards for online and remote providers

If you receive a prescription

Have you been given clear information about the medicine, including:

  • what it's for?
  • when and how to take it?
  • what are the possible side effects?
  • how this might interact with any other medicines that you are taking?

If you consider having medical tests done online

Find out:

  • who will be reviewing test results
  • how they will share test results with you
  • what follow-up and support will be available for you

We check that registered providers are using appropriate laboratory services as part of our inspection process.


Last updated:
23 September 2019

 


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