Making the most of medical resources that aren’t your doctor

This article is relevant in the Covid context we’re living in as more and more people are looking for alternative solutions to their usual GP journey.

We will cover the digitalisation of the NHS for patients, the emergence of new private health companies, and the increasing number of medicines made available over the counter.

Our Doctor, Dr Daniel Atkinson, will share his experience on this topic.

COVID has made a lot of people reassess their personal priorities. Putting our health and wellbeing first has significantly changed the way we access certain healthcare services.

Telephone and video appointments have allowed patients to safely access primary care without putting them at risk of infection. The NHS has realised the importance of a digital future for healthcare and has set out a strategy to achieve this.

Obviously GPs still have a role to play in your healthcare, but there are now more opportunities available to help you become an advocate for your own health.

First up, and it might seem like a fairly obvious one, your local pharmacy can provide help, advice and treatment for a whole number of non-urgent health care problems. And there are several benefits to using them. You don’t usually need an appointment to speak to the pharmacist and a consultation room is often available for more private conversations. If an over-the-counter treatment is suitable then you can pick it up there and then. NHS 111 is even able to refer patients to community pharmacists for minor illness assessments and urgently needed medicine.

Another mode of treatment that’s often overlooked is over-the-counter medication. Being able to access certain treatments without the need for a doctor’s appointment gives people the opportunity to seek out treatment, when normally they wouldn’t. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has recently given licenses so that patients can access pharmacy-line sildenafil for erectile dysfunction and two mini pills for contraception (Hana and Lovima) [1] without a prescription from a doctor.

There are still barriers in place that may prevent certain patients accessing treatment for common conditions like ED. Knowing that you don’t need an appointment with a doctor in order to access treatment such as Viagra Connect, from online pharmacies like Treated, can provide an easy solution for many people. As we’ve mentioned the pharmacist will still want to ask you some questions to check any treatment they suggest is right for you.

There are also some things you no longer need to see your doctor for. You can check if your local GP practice allows patients to self-refer for physiotherapy or for some mental health services such as talking therapy. This means that you don’t initially need to see your doctor in order to start the process of treatment.

There are also a whole host of apps available on our smartphones to help us stay healthy. Some apps can remind you to go outside to get your daily dose of vitamin D at the optimal time of day, some track your sleep, some help you meditate and some can remind you to take your medication on time. Other apps that allow you to log data so that you can track aspects of your health can be helpful too. Those living with diabetes can input their blood sugars, insulin, mood, HbA1c as well as other important data. Women can track their menstrual cycle and the symptoms they experience. Getting to know your own body better can mean that you’re prepared for any warning signs and able to seek help early. Logging this information yourself can also give you a feeling of independence, and being able to see this data can provide an important insight into your health condition or how well a certain treatment is working.

While you don’t need an app for everything, you can usually dip in and out of free apps to see if there’s something that suits you and makes a difference to your health. There’s a huge market for this technology so a lot of effort is being put into it, meaning that the standard of healthcare apps will only get better.

So while primary care services still have an important role to play, not every health condition needs to start and end with a GP any more.

[1] Jiminez, D. (2021). Contraceptive mini pill to be made available over the counter in the UK. [online] www.pharmaceutical-technology.com. Available at: https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/news/contraceptive-mini-pill-available-over-counter-uk/.

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