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A prescription made in the Cloud?



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By Dwayne D’Souza, Founder at MedExpress believes online prescribing is the only way forward for our broken healthcare system

Online pharmacies (telemedicine technology if you prefer) have come in for a bit of a bashing from the media recently with some having been accused of failing to carry out proper ID checks and using inappropriate marketing tactics to sell strong and addictive opiate drugs. However online pharmacies, and other healthcare technologies, will play an important part in order to alleviate the pressure on an increasingly ailing NHS. It is estimated that each GP appointment costs an average of £30, putting the total cost to the NHS of missed appointments at more than £216 million pounds on top of the disruption for staff and fellow patients. So can online pharmacies help to solve the challenges faced by an increasingly overwhelmed and underperforming NHS?

A challenging landscape

Telemedicine technology sets out to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible with the goal of offering a clinically superior outcome. Millions of patients across the world do not seek, or obtain, the healthcare they require due to cost or accessibility issues – often their conditions are easily treatable. The shift in consumer expectation for appointments for doctors and drugs is probably best explained through the ‘Amazon effect’. People expect things quicker and cheaper than ever before. Telemedicine offers the opportunity for everyone to obtain the healthcare that they need. Compared to face-to-face visits, this technology allows patients who are not able to access a doctor (due to constraints such as working hours or distance, for example) the ability to use the appropriate system at their convenience. And when you consider that up to 7.2 million NHS appointments are missed annually, this is the equivalent of over 600 GPs working full time for a year.

At MedExpress, we firmly believe that healthcare is going to change drastically across the world over the next decade. The current system is broken; rising healthcare costs are resulting in long waiting lists, unaffordable insurance premiums and lower life expectancies. The technology exists that increases the productivity of a doctor by a magnitude of difference. By allowing patients to complete consultations in their own time, doctors can diagnose and prescribe treatments more efficiently. In addition, the system will also ensure that the correct information is always obtained from patients and will always check for any contra-indications or other potential red lights.

There are significant savings to be gained by using an online pharmacy in lieu of a visit to your GP; there is less GP time wasted for repeat and non-critical prescriptions and there is the time saved for patients – no need to take time off work and no time wasted on interminable switchboard waiting. Such savings can be passed on so that the eventual cost of the medication is less. And what price do you assign to reducing the embarrassment factor for people who fret about medications like Viagra or perhaps those uncomfortable dealing with menstruation issues? And it’s not just about cost; people don’t always get the treatment they require if they are embarrassed and will suffer in silence. By engaging with an online pharmacy, things are much more discreet than if you had to see a GP face-to-face and collect your medicines. And because you don’t need to manually take your prescription to a bricks-and-mortar pharmacy, getting hold of your medication is a much quicker and more discreet process, too.

Such technology is well-placed to assist in the face of the more than 15 million GP appointments that are being wasted each year because patients do not turn up. According to NHS stats, there are around 307 million sessions scheduled with GPs, nurses, therapists and other practice staff every year and 5 per cent – one in twenty – are missed without enough notice to invite other patients. That works out as around 15.4 million missed slots.

The dual input of technology and scalability enables telemedicine providers to offer a substantially lower price than it would cost to see a doctor face-to-face and purchase the medicine from a traditional pharmacy. Such online prices will typically include the cost of the medicines and the cost of the doctor reviewing the consultation and prescribing the treatment. Also, stock forecasting models and purchasing power enables online pharmacies to ensure that they are always stocked up with all of the medicines offered and thus avoid short-term fluctuations in price.

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Telemedicine technology has been around for a few years now and the emergence of multidisciplinary teams featuring technologists working hand-in-hand with physicians and pharmacists, has allowed these online businesses to continually refine and improve their systems. Using similar processes, MedExpress has built a tech stack across the entire healthcare business which includes algorithm-assisted prescribing. We’re looking into automating this further over the next 12 months by using dispensing robots to enable us to scale our solution to the next level, to make things even quicker and more discreet.

Dwayne D’Souza

Staying safe online

Always get your medication from a pharmacy or a reputable outlet. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has a register of authorised online sellers of medicines, which you can use to check if a website is legally allowed to sell medicines to the public. Also, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) operates an internet pharmacy logo scheme that serves to identify legitimate online pharmacies. This way, you can be sure you’re buying safe and genuine medications online.

Just like with other forms of shopping, don’t be tempted by spam emails advertising cheap medication. If something looks too good to be true, then it usually is.

Check the registration status of the pharmacist by looking for the name and address of the pharmacy operating the website. MedExpress medical team (who are all UK-based) assess online procedures. Our online customers must fill out a consultation form first which is then reviewed by a pharmacist, prescribed and then dispensed. Also, by avoiding prescribing which can be abused or controlled medications, such as Codeine for example, online pharmacies serve to take away the stress from the rudimentary, day-to-day prescriptions.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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