While all the talk may be of pharmacists working in GP practices, one GP decided to do it the other way around and take the GP into the pharmacy. Liz Jones reports.
The idea for MedicSpot came to Edinburgh GP, Dr Zubair Ahmed, after a pharmacist friend complained to him about the under use of his consultation room.
With ongoing pressures in GPs’ practices, the idea of a virtual GP in-pharmacy seemed like a viable solution. “As a GP myself, anything that takes excess capacity is a good thing and I believe the service can relieve pressure on the NHS,” Ahmed explains.
But MedicSpot is much more than an online GP service. It is a service specific to community pharmacists and is the onlyone to incorporate diagnostics so doctors can remotely examine patients using a stethoscope, blood pressure machine, otoscope, pulse oximeter and thermometer.
Ahmed is a firm believer in using technology to improve efficiencies in the healthcare system. The MedicSpot platform is currently specific to independents because, he says, they are more innovative and hungry to do things differently.
And with technology getting smaller and more accurate, Ahmed believes the pharmacist is in an excellent position to interpret any results. “It’s the perfect channel,” he says. “It offers a controlled environment for virtual diagnostics.”
The service also emphasises the fact that “pharmacists are clinical, too” which is very much in line with the Department of Health’s agenda of a more clinical and digital NHS. “For decades the government has been shifting more and more care into the community: this allows this to take place,” he affirms.
So how does MedicSpot work? For a fee, a patient consults with a doctor online via a terminal in the pharmacy’s consultation room. After diagnosis, a prescription is emailed directly to the pharmacy (with the hard copy following in the post). “There’s no waiting around. It’s convenient and highly accessible,” says Ahmed.
MedicSpot provides all the necessary kit, training and marketing material required. “All the pharmacy has to provide is the space in the consultation room and a good internet connection,” Ahmed adds.
The service taps into a bank of GPs around the country to enable its virtual consultations and is currently operational in 42 pharmacies, 30 of which are located in London.
A complementary service
Shahzad Aziz of Newington Pharmacy in Edinburgh, an independent of 10 years,
has been using MedicSpot for just over six months. “It complements what we do, such as our travel clinic,” he explains. Aziz feels his location helps its success. “We have a big student population and also lots of tourists [so, potentially lots of people not registered with a local GP practice]. We’re located very close to both main train stations, too.”
With local surgeries full to capacity, Aziz feels he’s offering a valuable service. “It’s just a different, additional way to access help.”
So who has used the service so far? “It’s often a case of people who are on holiday
and who’ve forgotten their medication. Then there are the students who aren’t locally registered. A lot of our customers are from abroad, too, where they are used to private healthcare.”
“There are lots of repeat prescriptions,” says Aziz. “So predominantly for diabetes, thyroid, respiratory tract, UTIs, that sort of thing.”
Aziz believes he is offering ‘instant healthcare’: “It’s a seamless, all in-house service.”
Offering the service also enhances his pharmacy’s USP, clearly differentiating his business from others, and he believes that his has become the ‘go to’ pharmacy as a result. While he admits that it is too early to calculate MedicSpot’s effect on his business, he does feel that the technology offers another way of accessing help. “Most patients say it’s a real eye-opener,” he says.
Ahmed believes that MedicSpot is only a small part of the journey in a more digital future and that the current health system is too fragmented. “We need more joined up care and a greater shared vision of good healthcare in the community,” he says.
Further down the line he sees the platform becoming even more diagnostic with the potential for it to move into blood and urine testing as well as vaccinations. That view fits well with his ultimate goal: “To create a health clinic in the cloud.”