An online sexual health clinic that offers postal testing and email consultations is claiming to be the first online medical service to be registered by the Healthcare Commission.

DrThom is a private clinic and was set up four years ago by Dr Thomas Van Every, who works in an NHS sexual health clinic in London. It offers urine and saliva testing for sexually transmitted diseases and, should the tests prove positive, free medication subject to an online risk assessment questionnaire.

Users can order and pay for tests for gonorrhoea and Chlamydia, which are despatched the same day, or arrange e-mail consultations with a qualified specialists. All tests are carried out off site with samples sent in by patients, and HIV screening is also available.

Ian Van Every of Dr Thom told EHI Primary Care that registration with the Healthcare Commission was not especially different for an online service as it was for a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ organisation.

"It’s a lengthy process and for many people quite a troublesome one," he said. "The first stage is you fill in a detailed application form. You have to say in all your policies and protocols. Then you come and get inspected by the healthcare inspectors. They then give feedback on anything you have to change."

DrThom also needed to satisfy the Healthcare Commission on how its drugs were kept and prescribed, how its privacy policy was written and enforced, and how it complies with relevant legislation.

Van Every says that patients using the service are largely the demographic that either are unable to access sexual health services — they are either too far away, or they cannot take time off work — or are too embarrassed to go to a clinic in person.

70% of DrThom’s customers are male, and a large proportion of these are aged over 35 and live in rural areas.

The Healthcare Commission inspects private clinics that are registered with it every year, often unannounced. Its statutory duties as an independent body include regulation of the private sector and monitoring complaints. Registration with the commission does not imply endorsement.

Links

Dr Thom

Healthcare Commission