Health regulator condemns MTN telemedicine helpline

2011-05-09 00:00

THE Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) has condemned telemedicine as unethical.

In a statement last week the regulator said organisations offering the services of a doctor “just a call” away are in breach of patients’ rights, including the practitioner-patient relationship, patient confidentiality and informed consent.

This comes after cellphone operator MTN in partnership with Sanlam announced the launch of a nurses’ advisory line to assist the public with everyday health queries.

The announcement was made last week and the aim is to make basic healthcare guidance about ailments such as stomach aches, fevers, potential poisoning and general parenting tips related to children’s health, among others, available to the public.

The service will cost the caller R5 per minute.

HPCSA’s acting chief executive, Marella O’Reilly, said the service was not approved or registered with the regulator, which is still considering guidelines for telemedicine.

“Our ethical rules and regulations are there to protect the public and to guide the professions in providing quality health care to our citizens,” she said.

O’Reilly said the council would not approve any business model that contravenes its ethical rules and regulations and investigate any healthcare professional who contravenes them.

The regulator advised employers not to accept sick notes via SMSes as they are not a valid medical certificates.

“A medical certificate must contain specific information after the practitioner has made personal observations during an examination or as a result of information that was received from the patient and is based on acceptable medical grounds,” O’Reilly said.

MTN’s senior manager of communication and public relations, Bridget Bhengu, said HPCSA misunderstood the intention behind the service.

She said the aim is not to replace doctors or nurses but to keep the injured and ill at home calm and handled in a manner that will not lead to more harm or danger.

“We’re just providing an advisory line for the public so that they are able to handle situations until medical help gets to the scene. No diagnosis will be made nor will there be any medicine dispensed. This is not a replacement for doctors or nurses and I think there must have been a misunderstanding about what we said in the report released earlier.

“All the ethical issues regarding this matter, including doctor-patient confidentiality, have been taken into consideration when hatching this project.”

Bhengu said nursing professionals will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 083 903 4690 in all official languages.

The project is piloted in the East Rand area this month, with a national roll-out planned towards the end of the year.


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