Ensuring safe online prescribing

Dr Kieran Seyan (MBBS, BSc, MRCGP (2008), DTM&H), Medical Director at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor and GP in NHS practiceshares his take on the recent scrutiny surrounding online prescribing

In my career I have cared for patients in many different clinical environments – from hospitals and GP surgeries in the UK, primary health care clinics in Nepal, through to my current role at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. I have therefore been following with great interest the recent media coverage relating to online prescribing. Having worked in this business for the last four years, I’m very familiar with and proud of the safety measures we have in place to protect our patients.

Today, people are looking for more convenient and easy ways to manage their health. This change in consumer habits has led to the rise in online pharmacies and healthcare providers, like ourselves. We have been working in this field for over 15 years, during which time we have constantly developed the frameworks we use to ensure safe prescribing online. We have a team of doctors that carry out individual consultations with patients and the prescribing clinician takes full responsibility for both the consultation and any subsequent prescribing of medication.

Clinical governance is at the forefront of our practice and at Online Doctor we are keen to contribute positively to the field. Over the years we have presented to the King’s Fund, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (evaluating safeguarding procedures in the digital field) and at the International Union against Sexually Transmitted Infections (discussing appropriate antibiotic prescribing). We are extremely proud that in 2017 the CQC reported that the services we provide are safe, effective and responsive, all in accordance with relevant legislation and regulations. We also offer our patients the option to collect their medication from one of our LloydsPharmacy stores, where they can talk to a pharmacist about their medication and managing their condition.

As any healthcare professional will attest, there’s no room for complacency and certainly no room for shortcuts – not when it comes to a person’s health. Safeguarding patients from harm must always be the top priority.

In an article in Chemist and Druggist last month, the BMA said that it shouldn’t be the job of GPs to police online prescribing – and I have to say that I completely agree.

Any additional policing would simply add to the burden of our already stretched GPs. Our aim to is to alleviate the pressure on our NHS, not to add to it. GPs can certainly report concerns about poor or unsafe practice to the provider themselves or to the GPhC /CQC if appropriate, but ultimately, I feel that compliance with safety guidelines should be left to the regulators.

I also read in the Guardian that there has been a 60% rise in prescriptions for opioid drugs over the past 10 years. Whilst these medications can be extremely effective for some select patients, there is risk of addiction, overuse and misuse. At Online Doctor, we do not prescribe any medication that could be considered addictive and do not prescribe controlled drugs. We feel it is in the best interest of the patient for these medications to be prescribed by the patient’s regular GP so that there can be a discussion about benefits and risks of using the medication and appropriate monitoring of their condition.

The CQC has advised that all online providers will be inspected again this year and we welcome these inspections to ensure that patients are being safely managed by all providers. This is an opportunity for us to once again show that our Online Doctor service is not only convenient and easy to access, but most importantly safe and secure for our patients.