Your first thought might be like mine: It depends on what is wrong. If you have a shoulder problem then you really want the doctor to get his or her hands on it and test it rather than simply discussing symptoms over a live video chat. But for other things, well, it might be just the thing.
That's where I found myself this week.
Having been grounded by an attack of some sort of winter flu/cold virus, things developed and I began to have a few breathing problems reminiscent of a really bad incident 6 years ago. I checked online with our surgery and the earliest appointment I could get was 2 weeks away. Knowing what happened before I decided it was probably going to need a trip to the walk-in centre. But then I decided to try an online consultation service called Push Doctor.
This was my experience.
The first thing I had to do was create an account and answer a few questions. All very straightforward and what you'd expect. You can choose whether to share the results of the consultation with your own GP or not and you need to add a Credit Card in order to pay for the service. The cost for a one-off appointment is £30 and there's an £8 fee for a prescription and you will need to pay for any medication prescribed when you collect them. You have to decide whether that represents good value for money for yourself. If, like me, the alternative is either a two week wait to see your own GP or pay around £60 for a private appointment, then £30 is good value. Especially considering how quickly I got to see a doctor.
Having signed up and verified my identity I booked my appointment. I went for 7:30am the next morning (Saturday). I downloaded the app to my 'phone but actually used my MacBook for the consultation. You can enter the virtual waiting room up to 30 minutes before your appointment and the system needs to check that your device is working, so don't leave it too late to get ready. You get a notification about where you are in the queue. As it was I got to see the doctor a few minutes early.
So, how did it go? Okay. We discussed my symptoms and the medic asked the kind of questions I expected. He was thorough and clear in explaining what he thought was the best course of action. Pretty much exactly what you'd expect if you were sitting in the consulting room.
A prescription was issued and the consultation ended. I suppose the only thing that might have been different at the local surgery would have been whether the doctor chose to listen to my breathing or not.
The process for the prescription was straightforward. The system checks local pharmacies for stock and then sends a fax (a bit old school, why not a pdf copied to the patient I wonder?). Once the collection point has been confirmed you get a text and off you go to pick up your drugs. I was prescribed an antibiotic and a steroid, total cost £10.
Overall it all worked really well. Rather than wait two weeks or visit the walk-in clinic, I spent a little over 10 minutes online sitting on my sofa. Even at £48 it felt like money well spent. Local GP surgeries are under ever increasing pressure and typically even when you get the surgery it can be 40 minutes past your allotted time before you get into the consulting room. Not great if you're feeling like death warmed up.
Would I use it again? Yes is the simple answer. There are obviously things where you actually need to sit in a room with a doctor, but not everything requires that. I know too that there have been some concerns about the online consultation service, but my experience is that it was great for me and my needs.