Diagnosis bad for ‘Hello Doctor’

2013-11-21 00:00

EXECUTIVE producer and presenter of the “Hello Doctor” medical service, Dr Michael Mol, said he was “stunned and disappointed” after the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) issued a statement warning the public against using Hello Doctor.

“We are especially surprised because the HPCSA’s statement seems to be based on a misunderstanding on the medical service we deliver,” Mol said.

The HPCSA has warned doctors, other healthcare practitioners and the public not to participate in, or make use of, the advertised Hello Doctor or any other act of “unethical telemedicine”, that may be in breach of the Council’s ethical rules and regulations.

The HPSCA said that despite submissions by Sanlam Health and MTN as well as Hello Doctor, a subsidiary of Metropolitan Health, being rejected by the council in 2012, the regulator has noticed, with concern, recent initiatives by the MTN Hello Doctor partnership offering “text conversations” with doctors as well as telephonic “House call” access to doctors’ services.

Practices such as these are in breach of patients’ rights such as practitioner-patient relationship, patient confidentiality and informed consent, it said. HPCSA CEO and registrar Dr Buyiswa Mjamba-Matshoba said the HPCSA was aware of the advantages technological innovations could bring to the healthcare industry and had to this end revised telemedicine guidelines currently under consideration by the council’s 12 professional boards.

He said telemedicine should only be used as a tool to enable practitioners to provide proper care, and the council’s ethical rules and regulations provide guidance to some 200 000 registered healthcare practitioners and seek to protect the public.

“Consequently the public are warned not to make use of these offerings which violate vital patient rights and practitioners are cautioned not to participate.

“The council is not opposed to telemedicine, however, business models that clearly contravene the HPCSA’s ethical rules and discourage face-to-face consultations between the patient and practitioner, are of grave concern.” Mjamba-Matshoba said.

Hello Doctor, which is largely owned by Metropolitan Health, said they had in three years of providing health consultations over cellphones not received any consumer complaints. Hello Doctor CEO Andy Milne said the last submission had been made to the HPCSA in August 2012 and the council had not reacted since.

Mol said Hello Doctor did not practise any form of telemedicine, which would transgress the HPCSA’s ethical regulations.

“We offer health information and services that are designed to help consumers take informed decisions about their own health. No diagnosis or treatments are given on the Hello Doctor platform,” Mol said.

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