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Principles for safe remote prescribing and consultations

If you grew up outside the era of the smartphone, it can sometimes be surprising just how many routine parts of daily life can be managed online – without the need to be present in person. Healthcare is just one of those. Whilst entirely machine-led consultations with patients may be a long way off, some advances in technology have the potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered. Demand for online healthcare advice and prescription, alongside advances in technology that make it possible, has created a burgeoning market and some patients now have the option to access their healthcare professional without having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Whilst such remote consultation and prescribing is not yet commonplace within the optical sector, it is happening in some instances and it’s therefore useful to remind registrants that – despite the fact that an online environment looks very different from ‘traditional’ optical practice – there are some things that remain the same.

How am I held to account when working in an online environment?

Above all else, it’s vital to remember that the Standards of Practice, Standards for Optical Businesses and Standards for Optical Students still apply, regardless of whether you work in a high-street premises or an online environment. Your responsibilities to patients are the same as always.

To provide more information on expectations, however, we co-authored and agreed to a set of shared principles for remote prescribing and consultations alongside other regulators and healthcare organisations. Many medicines are prescribed safely online, but in some instances patients have been prescribed medicine that is not safe for them, or in quantities that are not safe and so a joint initiative was set up between regulators to try and prevent this from happening.  The publication of the principles in November 2019 was a product of this joint initiative.

The shared principles are underpinned by our (and other regulators’) standards, so they don’t replace them and don’t impose any new requirements, but provide more information as to how you might meet the Standards of Practice, Standards for Optical Businesses and Standards for Optical Students when undertaking remote consultations and prescribing.

I don’t work online, but I do work with lots of new technology – what are your top tips for me?

As well as making sure you’re familiar with what the Standards of Practice require of you (and what the Standards for Optical Businesses say), one top tip is to remember to communicate with your patients – particularly if you’re going to be using new technology that you’re familiar with, but they may not be. Taking time to explain to them what it is and what it does not only helps you be more confident that they can give informed consent to its use, but also helps the patient to feel more comfortable. This can be applied to registrants working in an online environment too – because there’ll be limitations to the care you can provide online (as opposed to in-person) it’s really important that patients understand that and aren’t expecting you to do more than you safely can.

I’m not yet working online, but I have an optical business idea which would involve providing online services – can I register the business with the General Optical Council (GOC)?

Potentially, provided that the business meets our other criteria for registration – we do not differentiate between businesses that see patients in physical premises and those that provide online services. First and foremost, get some independent legal advice to make sure what you want to do is permitted under the law, and then remember that any GOC registrants you employ will need to adhere to the Standards of Practice. You’ll also need to adhere to the Standards for Optical Businesses, which apply to all of your business and staff, whether or not they are GOC registrants.

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