All You Need To Know About Online GPs

We answer your queries about online GP services so you can understand when it’s appropriate to use them—alongside their benefits and limitations.

What exactly is an online GP and how do they work?

Online GP services allow you to consult with a doctor through a Skype-like video call where the patient and doctor can see and hear each other on the screen. Much like a traditional face-to-face consultation, the doctor will ask what is wrong, decide on a diagnosis and suggest treatment.

Online GPs have gained in popularity over the last few years as it gets harder and harder to get an appointment with your own GP with patients looking for an alternative way to see the doctor.

Is it safe to get a diagnosis from an online GP?

Online GPs are able to provide an accurate and safe diagnosis without seeing you in person for many conditions, but of course it will depend on the type of illness.  Most reputable companies understand that whilst as good as online doctor services can be, they can never replace your normal doctor for all things.

Can I get a prescription using an online consultancy?

Yes, if the doctor recommends a prescription medication then the doctor can issue this prescription for you to pick up medication from a pharmacy of your choice. Sometimes, medication can even be delivered directly to your door.

What can an online doctor treat?

Common things which online doctor services treat are urine infections, tonsillitis, chest infections and skin complaints. Online doctors can typically treat you for most conditions for which you might go to an NHS GP or walk-in centre for.  However, online GP services don’t normally have access to your NHS records so these services might not be appropriate for chronic conditions.

Some online GP providers are even able to virtually examine you by listening to your lungs and taking your oxygen readings and blood pressure. This type of virtual examination allows doctors to safely treat even more conditions than other normal online GP services. 

Online GP services should not be used in emergency situations such as chest pain, severe bleeding or severe shortness of breath for which you should normally seek the help of the emergency services.

How long would I typically need to wait to speak to a doctor after making an appointment?

The main reason that online services have taken off so well recently is that it is very easy and quick to get an appointment. Most good companies have appointments available within the hour—meaning you don’t have to wait for days or weeks to see the doctor. Moreover, many are now open seven days a week and on bank holidays.

Do I need to have private health insurance in order to use an online doctor?

No, you don’t need private health insurance to see an online doctor and in fact most online doctor services are quite affordable with prices starting at £30-£40 for a consultation. This is about half the price that you would have normally paid a few years ago to see a private doctor in person.

Do I need a referral from my family GP to speak with an online doctor?

No, this isn’t necessary. The whole point of seeing an online doctor is so you don’t need to go see your own family doctor and there is no point doubling workload for your own doctor. All you need to do is enter a few details, make payment and then you are connected to an online GP. There may be times when the online doctor will recommend you see your own GP for the condition you want help with. If this happens, most reputable companies give you your money back for the consultation.

How will I know if my ‘online doctor’ is qualified?

The main thing to look out for is to ensure that the online service you want to use is registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC has stringent guidelines to check the qualifications of all staff and doctors working for the online company. Most companies also display the biography of the doctor on their website. 

Generally, most online doctors working in the UK are fully qualified GPs that also work for the NHS. They typically work for online companies an extra day or two per week to supplement their NHS work.

Will my data and privacy be protected online?

All well-led companies have robust data protection policies to ensure that your personal and sensitive data is safe. Data is encrypted and companies should also be registered with the Information Commissioners Office and follow its guidance.  There can be large fines for any company who has lax data protection policies so most companies are very good at protecting data.


Dr Ahmed, GP & Founder of MedicSpot

MedicSpot allows patients to see an online GP from any of its 50 virtual clinics with convenient appointments generally available within 30 minutes.

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