Concern over online GP

 

AN ENGLISH company offering online consultations and prescriptions to patients in Ireland poses a range of patient safety issues that need to be addressed urgently, according to the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU).

The new website (drthom.ie) is run by two doctors registered with the Irish Medical Council and aims to treat patients with asthma or erectile dysfunction as well as women seeking the contraceptive pill. A spokesman for the company said that it hoped to expand on these services in the future.

Users of the website can complete an online questionnaire after which they will be given a prescription if it is deemed suitable.

The skipping of face-to-face consultations with a doctor was a worry for both pharmacist and GP representative groups speaking yesterday.

“Pharmacists have strict obligations to patients in dispensing medicines,” said Gerard Howlin, the head of policy and public affairs at the IPU.

“Pharmacists must assure themselves that medicines are safe and appropriate for patients,” he said, adding that this may include consulting with the prescriber.

Dr John Ball, a spokesman for the Irish College of General Practitioners, said face-to-face consultations were crucial for properly diagnosing a patient.

“The consultation is an important part of the process. It is a skill that has developed over the decades.

“The patient might go to the GP knowing what they want but through physical examinations and consultation other things often turn up,” he said.

The IPU has called on the Irish Medical Council, as the regulatory body for doctors, to “urgently” address the issue.

While it refused to comment on specific practices, the council said yesterday that so long as doctors were registered and conformed with council guidelines, they were free to operate.

As drthom.ie does not sell prescription drugs but merely prescribes them, it is not breaking any guidelines or laws.

The most recent set of council guidelines states that proper data protection measures must be taken with regards to patient confidentiality when web-based services by registered GPs are used.