With nearly all industries moving toward a more digital presence, it is no surprise that healthcare has taken a similar turn. Patients are demanding greater access to care in the UK, and online service providers are making an effort to meet this growing need. Just like brick-and-mortar health facilities, like dentists, hospitals, care homes, and specialists have an obligation to abide by standards set by the Care Quality Commission – the regulator of all health and social care services in England – online healthcare services must do the same. Unfortunately, a recent report published by the CQC highlights the perils some patients face when trusting the digital trend sweeping healthcare providers.

Dangers in Unsuitable Prescriptions

Errors in prescription medications take place in traditional pharmacy settings and doctor’s office around the world, but the anonymity of online pharmacies creates a higher probability of errors taking place. The most recent CQC report focused on digital healthcare service providers highlights some of the most glaring examples of substandard care in prescribing medications to patients. First, a widely known online pharmacy was found prescribing a large number of opioid-based medications without having a foundational system in place to confirm patients’ medical history or prescription track record. The CQC issued a restriction on the company, forcing it to limit its prescriptions until a sustainable system was established.

Another online pharmacy was cited for prescribing a high number of asthma inhalers, not in line with best practices of traditional providers. The company failed to implement a review system for new prescriptions, putting patients’ lives at risk. In this case, the CQC issued a warning to the online pharmacy to update its practices immediately. Other online providers were cited for not adequately reviewing patient medical histories prior to approving a requested prescription, and accurately identifying GP assessments before prescribing medicine to certain patients. Although the published reports from the CQC are helpful in bringing to light the risk patients face in using online healthcare services, there is only so much the organization can do to stave off potentially fatal issues that arise due to nonexistent safeguards among companies operating online.

How Patients can Help

The risks of using pharmacies and other healthcare services through a digital platform are growing as more individuals seek out immediate care for health-related issues. A representative from a team of medical negligence solicitors dealing with cases of prescription claims and those where harm is caused due to medication mistakes explains the most significant issue online providers present to the public. In essence, the same standard of care should extend beyond traditional settings in which doctors, nurses, specialists, and pharmacists are providing care face-to-face to those who offer medical guidance online. Patients deserve the highest quality care available, and online companies along with the people who work for them have an obligation to protect those who seek their services. That can be done by abiding by the best practices laid out by the CQC, including understanding the medical history of the patient, other medications the patient may be taking, and the recommendations of the patient’s GP.

Patients using online healthcare providers have a responsibility to do their due diligence when working with a primary care, pharmacy, or specialist company. The best step to take is to ensure that the organization is registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA by searching the company name, number, or website online. Additionally, any website that sells medicine to the public is required to show the EU common logo for potential patients to see. As the Care Quality Commission continues its objective to maintain a safe and high-quality healthcare environment for patients in England, individuals can do their part by being knowledgeable of the risks they face when conducting medical business online.

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