Health Economics

Health Economics

Can paid semi-virtual appointments solve the access to GP crisis?


Dr Zubair Ahmed is the co-founder and CEO of MedicSpot. Here, he discusses the state of the NHS and explains how he has put technology and pharmacy at the forefront of primary care to help reduce some of the pressures it faces…

Every day, 130,000 patients fail to get an appointment with their NHS GP. It has become the norm for people to wait weeks before getting seen. The NHS finds itself subjected to an ever-increasing amount of pressure. On the one hand, patients have become more demanding, accustomed to the instantaneity of modern services such as Amazon, Uber and Netflix. On the other, short-staffed and underfunded, the NHS has been struggling to cope with the gross mismatch in supply and demand.

This lack of same-day convenience results in more strain on an already struggling NHS. When patients are forced to wait weeks to see their GP, health conditions can deteriorate and become more difficult to treat. What could have been easily addressed with a course of antibiotics might develop into a more serious condition needing an expensive hospital stay with potentially long-lasting effects.

Convenient alternatives

While many companies offer more convenient solutions to patients, they are not without their faults. Some private clinics offer same-day and walk-in appointments, but they are often available only in affluent areas, proving too expensive and inaccessible for many demographics.

Alternatively, GP consultations via smartphone apps such as Push Doctor and Babylon’s GP at Hand offer the immediacy today’s patients require at a more affordable price point. However, due to the limitations of a smartphone, doctors are unable to accurately diagnose patients outside the remit of minor health conditions, referring any patients that need to be examined to an in-person GP.

A different approach

As a GP, I appreciate the need for clinical safety when diagnosing and treating patients. It is for this reason that I, along with my co-founder, Oliver Brooks, created MedicSpot – a service that allows patients to instantly receive a full clinical examination from a registered GP at their local pharmacy. Unlike smartphone app-based services, MedicSpot uses state-of-the-art technology which allows its doctors to look down a patient’s throat and ears, listen to their heart and lungs, measure blood pressure, body temperature, and take oxygen readings. Therefore, MedicSpot GPs are able to safely and accurately treat 75 per cent more conditions than online-only GP services.

Dr. Zubair Ahmed

Benefits to the NHS

The ease with which patients can book a same-day appointment relieves both the stress on the patient and the burden on the GP. MedicSpot GPs enjoy flexible working hours, allowing them to work from home in addition to their regular NHS work. MedicSpot GPs help resolve the pressures faced by the short-staffed NHS by increasing capacity among qualified healthcare professionals. This, in turn, decreases wait times and allows NHS GPs more time to devote to each individual patient, improving overall health outcomes.

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For decades, the NHS has encouraged patients to visit their local pharmacy instead of their GP practice, freeing up NHS GPs to treat higher acuity conditions rather than those which could be swiftly remedied by a pharmacist. However, the patient experience is not always consistent, with some pharmacists having wider skills for dealing with primary care than others. This leads to some patients being referred back to their NHS GP practice, creating negative presumptions of the primary care capabilities of a pharmacy. MedicSpot levels the playing field, allowing all pharmacies to offer patients expert advice from either an independent prescribing pharmacist or a MedicSpot GP if required. Therefore, MedicSpot restores the image of the pharmacy as the first point of contact for patients.

MedicSpot also reduces the strain on high-cost channels to the NHS, including A&E and urgent care centres. We’ve found that 39 per cent of patients would have attended A&E or urgent care centres had it not been for our service. At an average cost of £120 per patient for every A&E attendance, MedicSpot is saving the NHS money, as well as freeing up vital resources for patients in need.

While many people will probably continue to visit their traditional GP practice for primary care, demand for more convenient solutions such as MedicSpot will only increase as digital natives seek easy-access health services. By focusing on the patient and offering care options for when and where they want it, MedicSpot helps to improve health outcomes. When primary healthcare is made more convenient, patients are more likely to utilise it and receive treatment before a condition can worsen.

MedicSpot is now available in over 70 pharmacies across the UK, where convenient and safe access to primary healthcare is already making a difference to people’s health and wellbeing, with plans to expand to 300 pharmacies in the UK and Ireland by early next year. The payment structure is affordable and transparent (£15 for a monthly account, £39 for a one-off appointment, or £100 for a year’s access). It is our goal to continue expanding the MedicSpot service to ensure everyone can get seen by a healthcare professional at a time and place that suits them to help improve health outcomes and reduce some of the strain on the NHS.

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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