Workforce and resource pressures in the UK National Health Service (NHS) mean that it is currently unable to meet patients’ expectations of access to primary care. In an era of near-instant electronic communication, with mobile online access available for most shopping and banking services, many people expect similar convenience in healthcare. Consequently, increasing numbers of web-based and smartphone apps now offer same-day ‘virtual consulting’ in the form of Internet video conferencing with private general practitioners.
While affordable and accessible private primary care may be attractive to many patients, the existence of these services raises several questions. A particular concern, given continued development of antimicrobial resistance, is that some companies appear to use ease of access to treatment with antibiotics as an advertising strategy. We examine online video consulting with private general practitioners in the UK, considering its potential impact on patients and the National Health Service, and its particular relevance to antimicrobial stewardship in an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Questions remain about the safety of online consulting and of the working practices of some private companies, and appropriate regulation is essential to ensuring that these services offer safe and effective care to patients. This will require a carefully tailored approach on the part of regulators such as the Care Quality Commission. For example, it has not been necessary to develop standards on advertising when assessing National Health Service general practices, but this will be essential in monitoring the actions of private online general practice services.