Dr Google vs The Virtual Doctor

2017-07-17 20:54

Picture: vrs.org.uk


If you don't have a health professional friend or relative on speed dial, what could be more convenient that "Google Search" if you need medical information? All you have to do is find a user-friendly site and punch in your symptoms, then you have your multiple diagnoses. You might already know how scary this exercise is as you won't always get reliable answers. There is more to getting answers than just interacting with a computer I suppose. The concept of telemedicine exists to link one to health professionals through telecommunication and technology. With the help of technological advances, health professionals' training, mentoring and support by specialized seniors are not the only areas of improvement. Virtual consults are fast becoming popular as well. You can have access to your health professional through text, voice or video calling.

Some few years ago, a virtual consult platform ("Hello Doctor") came under fire from The Health Professionals' Council of South Africa (HPCSA). There are still challenges with telemedicine in the public health sector for academic, diagnostic and patient care purposes as well.

A recently launched app (Medici) seems to be improving on this non-specific virtual patient-doctor relationship. Medici claims to link patients directly to their regular doctors for on-going care and support with the help of smartphones. Time off work, transport issues, waiting room logistics and lengthy consults can be significantly reduced with the use of this app, as claimed.

What's the catch? Why would you choose an app over the global "Google Search"? Or rather, should you continue with Dr Google or The Virtual Doctor?


You can access "Google" for free (technically speaking, with free Wi-Fi of course) and get your information in an instant. At what cost though? Can you handle a misguided approach to treating your condition or an anxiety provoking misdiagnosis? I suppose it won't matter if you have a self-limiting illness that will disappear in a few days. If you are on medical aid, and they agree to pay your doctor if you use Medici app, it won't really matter if you choose Medici over "Google Search".

How much are you willing to pay (cash) to speak to a doctor directly on your phone for 10 minutes? Not just any doctor, but one in your area that you can trust. A doctor you can make follow-ups with if you need additional information or a physical consult?

Maybe the tech-savvy generation might find this innovation revolutionary. If you spend most of your time on the phone anyway, wouldn't it be awesome knowing that you can do almost everything on your phone?


Now that you know what will be competing with your "Google Search"in South Africa, what matters to you? Do you believe in the traditional consultation approach where you visit a doctor's room only when things are really bad? Are you so health conscious that you would rather be safe than sorry? Maybe "Google" has always been kind to you, and nothing can take its place.

If your family doctor isn't so clued up on technological advances, would you consider an alternative "on the go" doctor from time to time?


Can you trust an app over THE "Google"? That's probably what some will ask. How safe will your private information be if you do a virtual consult? It seems the Medici founder and app developers thought well ahead to ensure that certain standards were met. The HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) standards for protecting sensitive patient data are apparently met by Medici. The HIPAA protects any information related to you as a patient (demographics included), your medical payments, treatment given or any other planned treatment options by your doctor. HIPAA rules that should be fulfilled by a virtual medical app include

The privacy rule (specifies who the patient information can be shared with)

The security rule (specifies administrative, physical and technical safeguards to protect patient information)

The transactions rule (specifies a list of guidelines to be followed when making claims for services rendered)

The enforcement rule (specifies how to handle electronic health or medical records)


Not everyone will welcome telemedicine advances with open hands. The HPCSA's released statement advocates against telemedicine platforms (specifically "Hello Doctor"), as they are seen to violate ethical rules and regulations. HPCSA strongly stated that: “Practices such as these are in breach of patients’ rights such as practitioner-patient relationship, patient confidentiality and informed consent.” A representative of the council also came out to say that: “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.”

This was back in 2013 and it was said that "Telemedicine Guidelines" will be revised and updated. Issues with informed consent were also assessed by a PHD graduate in Telehealth (http://telehealth.ukzn.ac.za/News/15-04-20/Legal_and_Ethical_Issues_of_eHealth_in_SA_Assessed_in_Thesis). Dr Caron Jack looked at challenges with informed consent and how the current set legal definition does not accommodate telemedicine.

In the meantime, exercise caution if you are using "Google Search" for health-related information.

Picture: medicalnews.md


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