Preferences for Medical Consultations from Online Providers: Evidence from a Discrete Choice Experiment in the United Kingdom
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BACKGROUND: In the UK, consultations for prescription medicines are available via private providers such as online pharmacies. However, these providers may have lower thresholds for prescribing certain drugs. This is a particular concern for antibiotics, given the increasing burden of antimicrobial resistance. Public preferences for consultations with online providers are unknown, hence the impact of increased availability of online consultations on antibiotic use and population health is unclear. OBJECTIVE: To conduct a discrete choice experiment survey to understand UK public preferences for seeking online consultations, and the factors that influence these preferences, in the context of having symptoms for which antibiotics may be appropriate. METHODS: In a survey conducted between July and August 2018, general population respondents completed 16 questions in which they chose a primary care consultation via either their local medical centre or an online provider. Consultations were described in terms of five attributes, including cost and similarity to traditional 'face-to-face' appointments. Choices were modelled using regression analysis. RESULTS: Respondents (n = 734) placed a high value on having a consultation via their local medical centre rather than an online provider, and a low value on consultations by phone or video. However, respondents characterised as 'busy young professionals' showed a lower strength of preference for traditional consultations, with a higher concern for convenience. CONCLUSION: Before COVID-19, the UK public had limited appetite for consultations with online providers, or for consultations that were not face-to-face. Nevertheless, prescriptions from online providers should be monitored going forward, particularly for antibiotics, and in key patient groups.
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