High street pharmacy giant Lloydspharmacy is rolling out 300 ‘virtual GPs’ to enable customers to consult a doctor remotely and pick up a prescription immediately.

The service is an extension of the online doctor service Lloydspharmacy already offers on its website, run by Dr Thom.

Customers going into 300 Lloydspharmacy outlets will be able to consult a doctor via a computer terminal on a range of health needs, including hair loss treatments, contraception, sexual health and travel vaccinations.

If appropriate, the GP will write a prescription and send it immediately to the pharmacy electronically. Consultations are free but prescriptions are issued privately and costs vary according to the cost of the medicine.

Last month, the company added swine flu anti-virals to its list of available services online.The cost for Tamiflu is £48.50.

The roll-out of the service coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by Lloydspharmacy on the future of remote diagnosis and prescription services.

The report  from consumer and business trends think-tank The Future Foundation says the National Pandemic Flu Service could pave the way for a rapid growth in remote diagnosis and prescriptions.

Report lead author Judith Kleine Holthause said the NPFS demonstrated that remote diagnosis could be an efficient way of dealing with certain conditions.

She added: “If regulated and monitored appropriately remote diagnoses and prescriptions could benefit the healthcare system in similar ways as remote services have helped the banking system.”

The Future Foundation and Lloydspharmacy conducted a poll as part of the report to look at consumers’ views of remote diagnosis and prescription services. The survey of just over 1,000 respondents conducted in July 2009 found 48% were interested in online diagnosis and 56% in remote prescriptions.

The Future Foundation forecasts that 37% of people will be using the web for medical information by 2020 (up from 14% in 2009) and that a variety of social and economic factors will lead to a substantial market for online diagnosis and prescriptions in the future.

Andy Murdock, pharmacy relations and governance director for Lloydspharmacy, said face to face consultations would remain at the heart of primary care, but that remote services could provide a viable alternative for an increasing array of conditions.

He added: “Right now these include lifestyle conditions such as impotence and hair loss, embarrassing conditions such as STIs, contraception, and certain minor ailments such as cystitis. But the list could expand considerably in the future."

The Future Foundation report says more regulation, monitoring and control will be crucial to the further development of remote diagnosis and prescription services with concerns about counterfeit medicines and bogus doctors acting as a potential break on further expansion.