Concern over online GP consultations

Patients urged to 'proceed with caution'
  • Deborah Condon

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has expressed concern about the use of online GP consultations.

The organisation, which represents doctors in Ireland, has insisted that online GP consultations ‘should not and cannot' replace face-to-face consultations.

It has urged patients to ‘proceed with caution', emphasising that without a physical exam, online consultations can lead to incorrect diagnoses or non-compliance with clinical guidelines.

According to the IMO's GP chairperson, Dr Padraig McGarry, online consultations ‘are not medical consultations'.

"GPs provide a service with the backdrop of having the full background knowledge of the patient's medical history. Online GP consultations cannot offer this holistic approach and will fall well short of a standard which should be offered and acceptable for our patients," he commented.

He said that private healthcare companies that offer such services ‘are purely seeking to make profit' and a face-to-face consultation ‘is the safest and most effective way to deliver healthcare'.

"While online consultations can be suitable in certain scenarios, such as emergency situations where a person may need specialist medical advice and support to talk them through the steps to stabilise a patient before the arrival of emergency services, it does not and cannot replace a face-to-face consultation with a GP," Dr McGarry noted.

The IMO pointed out that nine services offering video GP consultations and online prescriptions in the UK were found to be unsafe by the UK's Care Quality Commission. This amounts to almost one-quarter of all online primary care providers in the UK.

"There needs to be appropriate regulation in this area to protect patients," Dr McGarry added.

Responding to this, Dr Conor O'Hanlon of VideoDoc, a telemedicine company based in Dublin which provides online GP services across Ireland and the UK, said that online consultations 'are not intended to replace face-to face consultations, but rather to support them'.

"VideoDoc welcomes the IMO's call for appropriate regulation of online consultations in Ireland. Up to 25% of all VideoDoc consultations are referred back to their own GP if felt that a face-to-face consultation is more appropriate and patients are not charged in this circumstance," he explained.

He added that online consultations are 'ideally suited for minor ailments and straightforward illnesses that can often be diagnosed or followed up based on sight and sound alone'.


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