Although many GP surgeries are now offering an extended-hours service, most still do not, and getting an appointment can be difficult. Some surgeries require you to book days in advance, and then you may have to organise time off work, childcare, or pay travel costs. It is in this stressful situation that online doctor services seek to offer assistance.
While an online doctor service can never replace a face-to-face appointment with your GP, they can be very useful in a number of circumstances. If, for example, you want basic medical advice on a minor condition, an online doctor service can provide you with this information for free from the comfort of your own home. Alternatively, if you want to speak to a doctor but can’t get away to an appointment with a GP, a service such as that offered by Lloydspharmacy will arrange for a telephone consultation with a fully-qualified doctor at a time that is convenient for you. You may be required to pay a small fee for this service, but it is often preferable to the cost and hassle of arranging childcare or travelling to your surgery.
Online doctor services can also be a source of reassurance. If you have a more serious condition and have received a diagnosis and treatment plan from your regular GP, any doubts or worries you may have could be assuaged by a second opinion, which is readily available from an online doctor. Remember, however, that if your second opinion is contrary to that of your regular GP, this should not be seen as vindication of your fears, but rather a prompt to open another discussion with your regular doctor.
Another benefit of using an online doctor service is the anonymity it can offer. Many people develop problems they consider to be embarrassing, and that embarrassment can prevent people from seeking treatment – occasionally resulting in the inconvenient issue developing into something a lot more serious. Discussing an issue with an unknown doctor over the phone rather than face to face can relieve some of that embarrassment, and should allow more individuals to seek help with minor problems.
One thing to bear in mind if you’re considering the use of an online doctor service is the risk of being conned by a fake service. Most people Google their symptoms online when they have an unexplained problem, but symptoms for common illnesses are shared with many rarer, more serious ones. It’s easy to scare yourself and be drawn into using a ‘doctor’ service which is unaccredited. Be sure to stick to names you know and trust, and only use professional services which guarantee the protection of your personal information.
It should also be reiterated that for more serious problems, you should seek help from your own GP. The NHS has more information on the use of GP services here.