By Dr Zubair Ahmed
Virtual GP consultations are a significant step forward for the sector, improving access to healthcare for patients and reducing pressure on the healthcare system. Innovative technology of this type offers enormous potential and has facilitated millions of consultations to date.
Whilst they may have caused a stir in the early stages, perhaps even dividing opinion, online GP consultations are part of the fundamental shift in healthcare delivery. In the past few years, they have taken on a number of guises, such as video consultations in GP surgeries, online consultations from your laptop at home, and app-based appointments.
Without question, there is a surge in the number of patients accessing healthcare via this route, a trend which is showing no signs of decline. Pharmacies are now also beginning to move in the same direction, embracing this type of digital technology.
So why is it proving such an attractive option for patients?
The overarching benefit for patients is improved accessibility; this is an option that offers convenience, ease of use, flexibility, and speed. Patients can generally secure an appointment in minutes, or even walk-in for an immediate appointment, which proves invaluable to any patient juggling time restrictions.
They can consult with a GP around the clock, 24/7 and with some services, collect prescriptions within minutes – this is why it’s such a big hit with today’s customers.
Having a streamlined, cost-effective process is a welcome resource for many patients, such as those who perhaps cannot take time off work to visit their doctor, those who may become more unwell if they have to wait too long for a GP appointment, or business travellers and tourists for example who perhaps have forgotten to pack medication or fall ill during a trip.
For patients who face such difficulties accessing traditional GP appointments, digital appointments serve an unmet need and improve the patient experience.
Serving this unmet need for healthcare provides opportunities for pharmacies to enhance their position as valuable assets at the heart of communities.
Adapting to the changing pharmacy world with technology is a key driver for success and community pharmacies can also gain quite significantly from this type of digital technology.
Implementing innovative technology is imperative to sustainability as it provides patients with options, and by extending the portfolio of services and increasing footfall, it facilitates another, all-important revenue stream.
Pharmacies can provide a more competitive offering with an innovative service that exceeds patient expectations, attracts new customers and makes them stand out from others. In fact, for some pharmacies, it’s a very lucrative option, bringing in thousands of pounds as well as increasing OTC sales.
Community pharmacies are transforming consulting rooms into virtual GP surgeries, demonstrating how they are embracing innovative developments and how they are responding to changes in the way in which people wish to access healthcare.
Having worked as a GP in England and Scotland, I realised that primary healthcare provision could be made much more efficient and safer through the use of innovative technology; and this led to the development of my own take on the virtual GP surgery for pharmacies, a brand new in-pharmacy service to support overstretched resources.
I took it a step further than other online consultations and ensured its one that maintains the level of clinical safety that patients and doctors need, including the human element; one that offers a clinical examination station to allow the doctor to carry out a remote clinical examination, with a pharmacist on-hand if needed.
Innovative solutions that fall within the wider banner of online GP consultations are used extensively across the sector. Medicspot, for instance, is already being used in more than 250 pharmacies across the UK.
The ability to change and adapt as the market evolves is imperative. New models of healthcare delivery will always have a role to play, and ambitious community pharmacies are beginning to reap from such advances, by fostering innovative cultures and bringing new thinking to their pharmacies.
Digital GP consultations are gaining popularity and could be a game-changer for pharmacies, driving business forward. It’s a concept that is certainly set to roll out more widely across the sector and shape the future of our pharmacies.
Dr Zubair Ahmed is co-founder and CEO at Medicspot (www.medicspot.co.uk)
This article also appears in the December/January issue of Pharmacy Business.