Lloyds Pharmacy Review : Talk to a private GP *

We all know how hard it is to get an appointment with our GP's, especially if you want or need to see a specific doctor. The typical wait can be as long as 3 weeks which is hardly ideal if you're anxious about the appointment, and gives ample space for Dr. Google to do his thing!

However; using the internet to solve our medical troubles doesn't have to be a cardinal sin anymore. Enter Lloyds Pharmacy and their 'Talk to a private GP' service.

"Join over 500,000 patients who’ve used our online doctor service to obtain prescription only medicines and postal testing kits without the need to see a doctor face to face.

Choose same day ‘click & collect’ from our 1,600 pharmacies or Royal Mail Special Delivery when ordering your medicines.

Our doctors are UK registered and work in our London office. Our service is registered with the Care Quality Commission."

There are three services on offer. You can talk to a GP via Skype, email or on the phone. Great! There are six GP's on staff for this service, each with their own specialty. You can meet them *here*. I love their introductions, it makes for a more personal touch and you feel you're not talking to a total stranger. There are also some brilliant videos you can watch *here* about common medical concerns and how to use asthma equipment. There are a variety of clinics and services you can access with this service too!

I'm not terribly sure how widespread this service is across the NHS, but my old GP surgery offered a telephone consultation service which was absolutely fantastic. However, as I'm of the anxious variety and tend to stammer when talking to new people I figured in this instance I would be able to communicate my concerns clearer via email. 

This service was founded in 2002 by Dr Thom Van Every, a UK trained doctor specialising in sexual health.  The service was originally called DrThom.

While working at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London Dr Van Every observed that patients seeking help for sexual health problems found the process embarrassing and inconvenient. He suspected many patients were so put off going to the doctor that they weren't seeking any help at all.
As a result Dr Van Every set about replacing traditional face-to-face care with remote and online medical services to make it easier for patients to receive the care they needed whatever their problem.
In 2006 DrThom became the first ever online organisation to register with the government regulator of heathcare - the Care Quality Commission."

So how does it work? First you need to create an account with the service. It takes less than 5 minutes and all you'll need is your current medications and payment card. There is no paypal service, sadly, but the service is secure. Once your account is created you will have the three consultation options at your disposal.

Skype Consultation - £20
"Want to speak to a doctor and have access to Skype? Use this convenient service to speak to one of our London based doctors via Skype from the comfort of your own home or mobile telephone.
Simply click on the link below, complete the medical questionnaire and one of our doctors will Skype you at your chosen time.
Appointments are available Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 5.30pm and last for up to 15 minutes"

 Telephone Consultation - £20
"Something on your mind but too busy to get to the doctor? Don't want to speak to a doctor face to face? Book a confidential appointment and one of our private doctors will telephone you at your chosen time.
Telephone appointments last up to 15 minutes.
Appointments available Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5.30pm."

Email Consultation - £15
"If you have a problem with your health that you would like to discuss with a doctor but do not want to see a GP face to face or speak with a doctor on the telephone, use this service to send a confidential question to our doctors. Simply click on the link below, fill in our questionnaire with as much information about your ailment as possible and await a response.
One of our doctors will respond to your query within one working day. Just log back in to your patient record to read their response and advice.
Our doctors are able to respond Mondays to Fridays between 9.30am and 5.30pm."
Payment is taken in advance, and is refunded if the GP is unable to answer your question. I have had two questions rejected and both would be considered 'mental health' concerns, so this is something to bare in mind. My first question focused on mood and hallucinations, and the second was about grief. 

While I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why these type of questions are not suited for this service, it does make me wonder why there isn't something available. Surely those with mental health concerns are most likely to use an email consultation service to address their concerns. It is incredibly scary to take that first step to accessing treatment, and an email service seems almost ideal. Of course, I can see the ethical concerns of patient safety and the need for observational assessments that a face-to-face appointment would allow for. 

I think in terms of the initial appointment when presenting with mental health concerns, it is more seeking validation that there is a genuine problem like depression rather than 'the blues' which you just need to 'get over'.... or whatever choice phrase or comment has been thrown your way prior to seeking help from a GP.

Unless my specific questions were just too psychiatric in nature to be answered, from personal experience, I don't see why the standardized questionnaires for depression and anxiety cannot be utilized. Even if the maximum scores are reached, this knowledge should be enough to encourage the patient to contact their local GP service. In fact, having the scores to hand will perhaps trigger a more immediate appointment. But that's just me and my opinion. I'm sure there's a mountain of red tape behind why this isn't possible!
Back to the consultation. Seeing as I wasn't getting anywhere with mental health questions, I decided to see if a more 'typical' GP question would yield anything helpful. A few days ago I noticed what looked like eczema making a comeback on my arms and scalp. I had it as a child and vaguely recall my doctor attributing it to stress and anxiety, so I decided to see what would come of asking if eczema could be triggered by stress. I believe my question was uploaded at around midday. At 5.36pm I got a reply, and a text alert informing me of this.

"Dr G Taguri GMC:6129350 says...

Yes stress can make eczema worse. It may also be the physical work of moving such as cleaning, using lots of water and products and the dust. The most important treatment for eczema is emollients. So make sure you are using a gentle shower wash (such as Oilatum) and not soap and also moisturising with a good moisturiser such as E45 or Aveeno. If it is still not better then you may need to see your GP for some steroid cream.

Thank you for using this service."

Solid advice and useful information. I do remember confusion around E45 or hydro-cortisone cream in my earlier years, but I think that was just my mother not paying attention. Oh, and in case you were wondering, emollients is just a posh word for non-cosmetic moisturising cream.

I didn't know that the physical side of moving could aggravate the condition, but I was very careful when using cleaning products and always doubled up on non-latex gloves. I guess there's only so much you can do, aside from paying someone to do the backbreaking cleaning for you!

Thankfully E45 is very cheap OTC and available pretty much everywhere so I will definitely pick some up the next time I'm able to. 

On the whole, I have mixed feelings about this service but as a mental health blogger I am coming at this with a slight bias. But it is indeed possible I am among a group of people wishing for something that isn't practically possible within the rules of the healthcare system we live in, and that's fair enough.

For general medical concerns that are pretty straight-forward, I'd say this is an ideal way to get the issue dealt with swiftly. Sometimes parting with £15 or £20 plus the cost of a prescription - £7.65 - is worth it if something been troubling you for some time or you just can't face the wait at your usual surgery. For those 'embarrassing' problems that GP's have seen hundreds of times over in their careers, this is great.

While my reply from the GP seemed short, it was concise and to the point so there's no information overload which can sometimes happen in appointments! Let's not forget that a telephone or Skype consultation gives you up to 15 minutes, which is practically double the 'target' GPs have in their NHS clinics. Shame on the government for putting that kind of pressure on doctors, but that's another rant. 

Would I recommend this service? Absolutely. In certain situations the extra consultation time can be invaluable and the swift resolution of minor ailments or those awkward questions is something everyone can agree is nothing shy of fabulous. 
They even have a blog! Give it a click and have a read of the brilliant posts by the talented GPs! :)

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