Telemedicine 'unethical', says HPCSA

The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) telemedicine as unethical.

Organisations offering the services of a doctor just a call away were in breach of patients' rights, including the practitioner-patient relationship, patient confidentiality and informed consent, said HPCSA spokeswoman Bertha Peters-Scheepers.

Recent initiatives offering the service had been noted with concern by the regulator, she said in a statement.

The HPCSA had referred Sanlam and MTN telemedicine initiatives and the 'Hello Doctor' service to its undesirable business practice committee for consideration.

It said the 'Hello Doctor' service was not approved or registered by the HPCSA, which was still considering guidelines for telemedicine.

Practitioners shouldn't participate

Peters-Scheepers said the HPCSA called on practitioners not to participate in telemedicine practices and the public not to use them.

The HPCSA was concerned about the advice the public might get from these unethical operators, said its acting CEO and registrar Marella O'Reilly.

"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.

Physical examination required for diagnosis

As a general rule, a health care practitioner was required to do a physical examination and assess a patient in order to make a diagnosis.

O'Reilly said the council would not approve any business model which contravened its ethical rules and regulations and would investigate any health care professional who contravened them.

She said the HPCSA said it had also experienced an increase in the number of fraudulent medical certificates issued, some in exchange for money.

It advised employers not to accept sick notes via SMS as these were 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 which was received from the patient and is based on acceptable medical grounds," Peters-Scheepers said. - (Sapa, April 2011)

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