The first of the digital GP services to face a CQC inspection has been given a provisional clean bill of health, with the service provided via a mobile app deemed “safe”.
A draft Care Quality Commission inspection report on Salford Quays, Manchester, also known as Dr Now, has been released by the company. The draft report found the service provided “safe care in accordance with the relevant regulations”.
Dr Now is one of two private digital healthcare providers, along with Babylon Health, that the CQC has inspected as part of an “independent health” pilot.
As reported by Digital Health News earlier this week, by April next year the CQC plans to roll out a more focused regulatory regime for the growing number of digital healthcare services, many of them run by companies charging for private access to NHS doctors.
Some of these services, most of which provide mobile GP video consultations for a fee, are already being used in the NHS, as Digital Health News reporter Laura Stevens covered in more detail in her digital disruptor column this week.
Specifically, Dr Now, part of the Manchester-based Now Healthcare Group, allows users to order prescriptions and receive video doctor consultations through their phone.
Like many of its rivals, such as Babylon and Push Doctor, it offers a subscription or pay-per-appointment payment model. Many of the services are also developing machine learning triage apps, designed to divert less serious ailments that do not require clinical facetime.
A CQC spokesman cautioned the released findings were only a draft and a final report, which would be published next week along with an inspection report into Babylon, could change. “We are still fine turning our methodology.”
However, the draft report, based on inspections on 10 March and 15 September this year, passed the service on safety, effectiveness, caring, responsiveness and leadership.
In a statement, Now Healthcare Group chief executive Lee Dentith said passing the inspection reaffirmed his belief that Dr Now would “be fully implemented cross the whole of the NHS in the coming years”.
“We are aiming to be able to provide 100 million consultations in the next three/five years and also want to capitalise on technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to help patients take better control of their healthcare and reduce pressures on the NHS.”
The report comes as the government takes another run at setting up an NHS apps library, after a pilot programme was scrapped last year amid concerns about data security.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the revamped library would be up and running by March next year, as part of a wider push to provide more digital patient services.
The CQC inspection is distinct from the apps library, which will be run by Public Health England. However, there are suggestions that CQC inspections could form part of an app library assessment of service-based apps, such as Dr Now.
At this stage Dr Now, or any other apps, has not been endorsed on the app library.
At the UK Health Show in London last week, Public Health England’s deputy director of digital, Diarmaid Crean, said he had already been approached by digital GP service Babylon about an app library endorsement.
“We specifically looking at a number of apps in that space.” However, Crean said it was early days, and assessment of service-based apps would be more difficult that single-function apps, like a smoking cessation aid.