Breaking down barriers to build trust in digital healthcare

Andy Sloman, Managing Director at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor talks about his hopes for the future of digital healthcare after the online provider’s service was awarded a ‘Good’ overall rating from the Care Quality Commission.

In 1980, the idea of online banking seemed a million miles away. People simply wouldn’t be able to trust the concept of managing something as important as their finances digitally. But when The Bank of Scotland launched the first digital banking service in the UK, it transformed how people managed their money. Over the years the once seemingly insurmountable barriers of trust and security concerns have been worn away and now over 74% of us use online banking apps.

A few years ago, people would have said the same thing about the possibility of taking care of their health online. Slowly but surely – and accelerating due to the COVID-19 pandemic – we are breaking down similar barriers and being given the stamp of approval by the CQC is another huge step forward for us and the world of digital healthcare.

The ‘Good’ rating that was awarded to LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor is another example of how online healthcare is developing all the time and like the introduction of online banking, we believe it’s just the start of what can be achieved.

Online doctor services are regulated by the CQC (similar to the way care homes, hospitals and GPs are). Each provider is assessed and rated in five key areas covering safety, effectiveness, care, responsiveness and leadership. We are very proud of our ‘Good’ overall rating, and in particular the ‘Outstanding’ we achieved in the Well-led category.

We are determined to keep innovating and improving the quality and accessibility of our services. Just because we are good, doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels and start patting ourselves on the back. The journey toward safe and effective healthcare never ends and there is still so much more that we can do.

We are all too familiar with headlines about unprecedented NHS pressures and record patient waiting times, but it’s clear that something needs to change and the coronavirus will almost certainly be seen as a turning point. Digital services in all aspects of our lives are now being embraced by people who haven’t even considered them before. Of course, the more people we can direct online, the more we can ease capacity pressures on frontline services as well as the immediate issue of keeping vulnerable people safe.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock has already spoken about the need for the NHS to embrace technology in order to deliver its Long-Term Plan and the coronavirus pandemic has certainly created some impetus. It’s also helped to raise awareness of what is possible, but there is still some work to be done to build trust in online healthcare. Recognition like our CQC rating will help us to do just that.

McKesson UK CEO, Toby Anderson, shared a blog at the start of this year titled ‘Change will define healthcare in 2020’. In it he said, “as people get more used to managing their lives online, they will naturally become more receptive to digital services”. Our approach has always been about offering choice but at a time when people have had to seek alternative ways to manage their health, they’ve had no choice but to venture online.

It takes time for people to get used to new technologies, but we have seen in recent years how consumers are looking for more and more ways to manage their lives online. They want greater convenience that frees them up to do more of the things they love, but they don’t want to sacrifice quality or security – especially when it comes to managing their health.

We have a team of highly trained, expert GPs and pharmacists that can help patients with a range of issues. However, there are times when it is more appropriate to refer the patient to their regular GP or to other services that can better help them with their condition.

Our online consultations are also very effective in helping to identify underlying health conditions, allowing us to give appropriate advice to patients. Our expert medical team can identify when further investigation is needed and will always signpost to the relevant healthcare services. This level of care, along with the integration of online consultations with face-to-face support, was praised by the CQC in our recent inspection.

‘Omni-channel’ is a bit of a buzz word at the minute, but essentially what it means is more choice. Joining up physical and digital healthcare services, allows patients to choose what works best for them and means they can switch easily depending on what’s most convenient or appropriate. Online providers like LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor make it easier for people to get expert advice from real GPs without having to visit a face-to-face NHS service and this is something that has proved vital to so many people during the outbreak of COVID-19.

We have made it our mission to help build trust in digital healthcare, not just for consumers, but also within the professional community. That’s why we’ve been running GP engagement sessions to develop their understanding of our services and how they work. So far, everyone who has attended these events said they would be comfortable referring their patients to digital services in the future. Our CQC rating should strengthen our credibility even further.

It’s so important that we don’t stand still. We are constantly evolving our approach and our technology to make sure we are as effective and safe as possible. I hope in the years to come people will trust in digital healthcare like they do online banking.

Watch this space for more exciting announcements later in the year. This is just the beginning.