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New guidance for healthcare professionals on remote prescribing

Set of 10 high level principles to safeguard patients agreed by 13 healthcare organisations including regulators, royal colleges, and faculties

Caroline White

Friday, 08 November 2019

Thirteen healthcare organisations including regulators, royal colleges and faculties, have today issued a set of high level principles to help protect patients when accessing potentially harmful medication online or over the phone.

The jointly agreed principles set out the good practice expected of healthcare professionals when prescribing medication remotely.

The 10 principles, which are informed by existing standards and guidance, include the expectations that healthcare professionals should understand how to identify vulnerable patients and take appropriate steps to protect them; carry out clinical assessments and medical record checks to ensure medication is safe and appropriate; and raise concerns when adequate patient safeguards aren’t in place.

These principles apply to all those involved in providing consultations and medication to patients remotely, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and opticians.

The publication follows the release, in September, of a joint statement by healthcare regulators, which included a commitment to work together and with partner organisations to develop shared principles on remote consultations and prescribing.

The principles have been co-authored and agreed by: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Care Quality Commission, Faculty of Pain Medicine, General Dental Council, General Medical Council, General Optical Council, General Pharmaceutical Council, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, Nursing and Midwifery Council, Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey, said: “The flexibility of accessing healthcare online can benefit patients, but it is imperative these services do not impact on their safety, especially when doctors are prescribing high-risk medicines.

“Doctors working for online services have the same obligations to follow our guidance and to prescribe safely as they would do for face-to-face consultations.”

He continued: “These principles will remind all healthcare professionals of the importance of prioritising the safety and welfare of patients when prescribing medication remotely, and will help facilitate a culture where unsafe practice is called out and acted on."

Dr Susan Gibson-Smith, joint deputy head of medical division at the medical defence organisation, MDDUS, commented: “It is reassuring to see healthcare regulators and organisations reinforce the need to mitigate against the risks associated with clinicians treating patients remotely when they have little or no access to their medical records.

“For example, contact with vulnerable patients requires a heightened level of awareness, as in our experience issues can arise if safeguarding clues are missed during remote consultations, or when arrangements for following up with the patient are not adequate.”

She added: “We are also reassured that the principles advise UK-based healthcare professionals on important considerations should they be asked to provide remote services to patients abroad, emphasising the potential indemnity and regulatory difficulties with this.”

High level principles for good practice in remote consultations and prescribing. The General Medical Council, Novembr 2019.

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