Doctaly claims to be the UK’s first online GP marketplace that enables patients to book a convenient face-to-face consultation with an NHS GP on a private, fee-paying basis. The company describes itself as ‘Uber-like’, after the taxi booking service; patients can search for doctors by location or name via an app, book an appointment and pay securely online for the service.
Doctaly’s model supposedly aims to alleviate the waiting time issues surrounding general practice and the decreasing number of GPs. Doctors registered with Doctaly treat their patients at their existing practice, working around their existing NHS commitments. However, they do not accept appointments for patients with psychiatric problems or chronic diseases.
Doctaly has already been introduced in Manchester, the West Midlands, Kent, Surrey and Scotland. The company notes that it plans to expand to 10,000 NHS GP practices nationally.
Doctaly is the trading name of BDM Medical Ltd. The company was incorporated on 11 November 2014, founded by entrepreneurs Ben Teichman and GP Dr Dinesh Silva.
The company offers face-to-face appointments with a doctor starting from £49.99 and video call appointments from £39.99. Through the company's website, a search can be made for a doctor in your area, you can then choose the doctor, book an appointment and pay online. The doctors are all NHS doctors.
BDM Medical trades as Doctaly and files abbreviated accounts on Companies House. The most recent documents filed list shareholders funds as of June 2020 as £73,408. In this period it had five employees.
Following a successful pilot launch in 2016, the company launched a Crowdcube funding campaign aiming to raise £500,000. As of June 2018, they had reached over £807,000.
The business has also been funded to date by director’s loans from the Founder and SEIS/EIS investment* from external investors.
* SEIS/EIS are schemes that to encourage seed investment into early-stage, high risk, small companies by offering tax breaks on new shares in those companies.
Doctaly received over £807k funding on Crowdcube from 1,134 investors at an equity of 11.86% and a pre-money valuation of £6,000,000. According to Crunchbase the company had a second round of equity crowdfunding in December 2019 which raised £63.5K.
The company said investors both large and small can access an early-stage investment opportunity, with a minimum investment of £10 “in one of the fastest growing tech markets globally”.
As of April 2018, Doctaly has signed deals with 36 UK GP practices, 35 in England and 1 in Scotland, pairing NHS GP practices with fee-paying patients. This follows a successful pilot programme of the service in London in 2016.
Doctaly has developed Doctaly Assist, a Remote Patient Monitoring platform, built with guidance from King’s College, King’s Health Partners, Imperial College, Oxford University and South East London CCG.
Doctaly Assist's chatbot functionality is bespoke to the NHS and provides NHS clinicians with a tool to easily and efficiently support their patients with a wide variety of Long Term Conditions (LTCs), including asthma, diabetes, hypertension, COPD and Mental Health problems. The company also provides a Covid-19 specific version of the platform to NHS patients, as part of the UK response to Coronavirus. This latter option uses Whatsapp as the communication link between patient and clincian. In February 2021, One Health in Lewisham made the Covid-19 specific Doctaly Assist plus an oximeter available to patients with the infection in the community, to enable remote monitoring by a GP.
Patients provide their symptoms and vital signs through an interface, whilst the Doctaly Assist platform enables clinicians to remotely monitor them based on urgency, ensuring that the most unwell patients are flagged, prioritised and escalated for further care in the most appropriate clinical setting.
According to the company, Doctaly Assist is now delivering Remote Patient Monitoring services to a population of circa 2.1m patients in London. The company is also an officially accredited supplier on the UK Government’s Spark Dynamic Purchasing System Framework.
Campaigners have criticised Doctaly for allowing those who can afford to to queue-jump. There are also worries that it is easing the way for privatisation of the NHS.
Norman Lamb the former Liberal Democrat health minister, disagrees with the concept saying, patients should be able to access their usual local GP when they need to. He argues that it will create even more inequality within an already unequal society.
Dr Jackie Applebee, chairwoman of Tower Hamlets local medical committee and Doctors in Unite representative on the British Medical Association’s GPs committee said that she found Doctaly “very worrying” and it was a slippery slope towards further privatisation of the NHS.
A spokesperson for KONHSP said it was and example of “creeping privatisation compelling people who can dip into their own pockets to pay instead of waiting which in the face of a service on the verge of collapse is undermining”.
There is a general concern with these new digital services and their use of NHS GPs; although the doctors will be paid extra, their time and energy is being taken directly from the NHS with nothing given back. In addition, GPs already work inhumanely long hours and inviting them to work through their lunch-breaks or after hours will make this worse, meaning that all patients could receive sub-par treatment if doctors work longer days. This is just a quick digital fix for the rich that overlooks the bigger picture.