Almost half of companies that offer online primary care services are failing to provide safe care according to a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The findings of the report, based on 55 inspections carried out by CQC since November 2016, raises concerns over the safety of websites selling medical services and treatments.
Although the report noted that the latest findings were an improvement on the 86% of providers who were not meeting regulations, 43% were still found to be falling short as of February 28 this year.
CQC’s investigations found online providers were inappropriately prescribing antibiotics, including lowering the threshold for antibiotic prescribing because a physical examination was not possible, and prescribing high volumes of opioid-based medicines without talking to the patient’s GP.
Providers were also guilty of what CQC described as “unsatisfactory approaches to safeguarding children and those who may not have the mental capacity to understand or consent to a consultation.”
Other concerns included online providers failing to collect patient information or share information with a patient’s GP and inappropriately prescribing medicines for long-term conditions. CQC said some providers had failed to monitor the amount of asthma inhalers being prescribed to individuals when their condition should be regularly checked.
CQC said it would “continue to hold these providers to account” and “share the good practice it finds in order to encourage further improvement.”
The regulator also said that from April 2019 it will rate online providers outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate to help the public understand the quality of online health services.
Good progress however was made by providers when measured against CQC’s five areas; whether they are safe, caring, effective, responsive to people’s needs and well-led. As of February 28 this year, 97% of providers had met regulations around being caring and 90% were responsive to people’s needs.
Professor Steve Field, chief inspector of general practice at CQC, said: “New methods of service delivery that increase access to care and give patients more control over how and when they see a GP have huge potential not only for patients but for the wider health system.
“However, while innovation should be encouraged, it must never come at the expense of quality. As with all health care services, patient safety must be at the heart of all decisions around what kind of care is offered and how it is delivered.
“This is why we have taken action where we have seen risks to patients and why we have been encouraged to see many providers take note of our findings and make swift improvements to how they operate.
“This way of delivering primary care has an important place in the future of health provision but it is still evolving. We must all work together – providers by using our inspection findings to learn and improve and oversight bodies by working together and continuing to have a positive dialogue with providers – to ensure that this model fulfils its promise of accessible, responsive care while ensuring that the care delivered is always safe and high quality.”