Volume: 4 Issue: 3
England’s Care Quality Commission (‘CQC’) published on 3 March 2017 a warning about risks to patient safety from online healthcare services, following urgent investigations into two online providers; specifically the CQC expressed concern that some online providers may not be checking that medicines are appropriate for consumers before selling them, for example by failing to adequately assess the patient’s symptoms and medical history.
“The main concern is that prescription controlled medicines are being supplied to patients without proper assessments of the individual patient’s symptoms and medical history. There are also concerns relating to poor verification of the identity of the purchaser, and issues concerning a lack of service registration and use of registered medical professionals,” explains Matthew Godfrey-Faussett, Partner at Pinsent Masons LLP.
To assist in addressing such issues, the CQC has now released - jointly with the General Pharmaceutical Council, the General Medical Council, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - a reminder for service providers and clinicians about the importance of following professional guidelines, as well as information on how the CQC inspects and regulates primary care providers online, and advice directed at consumers who are looking into using an online doctor.
Godfrey-Faussett summarises the key takeaways from this as being the need “for robust procedures to verify patient identity and his/her mental or other capacity; for a proper review of the patient, including any relevant medical history, to determine or confirm the suitability of specific medicines; to ensure that the service provider is properly registered, including all medical professionals responsible for any prescription; to ensure that the patient’s GP is informed of the prescription and that medical history records are updated accordingly; and to ensure that transparency is maintained in relation to all processes and procedures, including the cost of the service.”
While the CQC carried out inspections at two specific online providers, both of which have now ceased trading in England, it also carried out a review of all 43 online services that are registered with the CQC and notes that other providers may also pose possible risks. The CQC has announced that it has brought forward its programme of inspections, following its recent findings. “Service providers should align their service arrangements with the regulator’s published priorities and inspection lines of enquiry,” said Godfrey-Faussett. “Thereafter, service providers should meet and wherever possible, exceed the minimum requirements published by the regulator and be conscientious in completing the information request that the regulator will issue in advance of an inspection.”