As a public body, the Care Quality Commission in the UK is tasked with regulating the health and social care services made available throughout England. In an effort to uphold the highest quality standards for UK patients, the CQC inspects services involving hospitals, at-home care, dentists, specialists, and care homes and publishes data on service providers to the public. In the digital age, monitoring certain activities relating to medical care and treatment that rely heavily on an online presence makes the CQC’s initiatives more difficult to pursue. However, in a recent publication from the quality regulator has shed new light on the dangers some online healthcare services place on unknowing patients.

Online Prescription Providers Failing Patients

Through in-depth inspections, the CQC found that a handful of providers operating online to fulfill prescription medications for individuals in England had failed to follow a slew of fundamental checks. The first was an online surgery site that was known for issuing prescriptions after a patient completed a brief questionnaire. Instead of checking for GP assessments for the appropriateness of prescriptions, the company spent as little as 17 seconds reviewing the information provided by the patient, putting individuals in a great deal of harm. Similarly, an online pharmacy operating in the UK was found to be prescribing an egregious amount of opioid-based medicines, without a viable platform to confirm medical history or prescription history of patients. Yet another online provider was cited for not having a system in place to verify the identity of a patient requesting a medication online.

Each provider was given notice from the CQC that it either needed to amend its practices immediately to correct the glaring issues of patient safety or face a suspended registration for an extended period. While the companies with violations were quick to fix the errors of their practices, the CQC has pledged to maintain a watchful eye to ensure patient safety standards are met moving forward.

Putting Patients at Risk

The new report detailing the issues found with online prescription providers follows several similar reports published by the CQC relating to web-based primary care practices. Although the desire for immediate medical attention is growing in today’s perpetually connected society, there are inherent risks to conducting the business of individualized medical care through online platforms. According to a representative from a medical negligence law firm that manages cases where harm has been caused due to prescription mistakes, providers operating online are expected to meet the same standards as those operating in traditional settings. Patients should feel comfortable that online companies have the same duty of care, and that the practices they follow ensure individuals understand how medications should be administered, how they may interact with other prescriptions, and that their primary doctor is made aware of any prescription recommended or filled online.

Alongside its report, the CQC offers some direction for other healthcare services operating online, suggesting that they take care to provide the services patients want and need in a safe, effective way. Additionally, the Commission gave a stern warning to the public with a recommendation to take certain steps to protect themselves when utilizing the new wave of healthcare providers. Individuals have the ability to search for registered online prescription providers here, simply by inputting the name, company number, or website of the organization. If a patient believes an online healthcare provider is not offering the highest standard of care, a report can be submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and an investigation will be initiated. Both online providers and the patients they serve have a responsibility to understand what quality health care looks like and take the appropriate steps to ensure that is what’s being received.