Web panacea: Patients take e-route to docs

Users claim it saves time, experts stress its limitations

Web panacea: Patients take  e-route to docs

Instances of the sick and infirm visiting hospitals or clinics are gradually coming down. Today, technology has become such an integral part of our lives that it has enabled ways to bring the doctor to the patient — via the internet, email, Skype and instant messaging.

Gaurav P, a Bangalore-based engineer told Deccan Herald that he was attracted to using online consultancies because it helped him save time and also because he had long used the internet to research medicine prescribed to him by doctors. “I lead a very busy life and visiting the doctor means I need to leave work early or having to go to the hospital — which I cannot afford. So online consultancy seems to be the perfect solution,” he said.

Catering to patients such as Gaurav are websites which offer specialised and customised
health services. A simple search offers a list of hundreds of such sites, advertising offers such as: “Meet your doctor on Skype” or “type a problem” and “live chat with your doctor”.

All one needs to do is sign up for the site, fill in a form and detail the symptoms. All of these websites, of course, have a different cost for the services they offer.
While this may seem like a boon to time-starved professionals, the reaction from the medical fraternity is less than enthusiastic.

“This online phenomenon has two major issues: medical and medicolegal,” explained Dr Sudarshan Ballal, director, Manipal Hospitals, who added that a lack of accountability among online practitioners is a significant problem. “Suppose after an online consultation, something happens to the patient such as death or the condition worsening. In such a condition, what will be the legal status of the case?”

He added that every State has a unique medical licence for doctors, which poses problems in the hazy world of the internet. “In the online world, suppose a doctor is from Karnataka and the patient is from Tamil Nadu problems will develop if he prescribes a drug which is not to be sold under the laws of Tamil Nadu. There is no monitoring going on,” he said.

Ballal added that patients still prefer a face-to-face consultation with doctors.
“I have had patients who used to subscribe to such services but then gave up. They told me they still relied on meeting the doctor and explaining the problem,” he said.

‘Time-saver’

Dr Rekha who founded pinkWhale healthcare services, an e-health conpany, however, maintained that medical portals are a time-saver. “If a patients goes to a doctor with a problem, it rarely ends in the first visit,” she said. “At least 40 per cent of subsequent visits are, in my opinion, unnecessary. This service avoids such things. Also, worries about an online doctor’s credibility do not arise because every doctor has a profile and their qualifications are listed on the site. A patient makes the decision after going through everything thoroughly.”

Dr Rekha, however, agreed that, “Nothing can replace a face-to-face consulting, but time, money and repeated visits can be avoided by an online service.”

According to Dr Devi Shetty, chairman, Narayana Hrudayalaya, online consulting service should play a different role.

“This service is a good tool for getting a second opinion and should not be the primary choice for a patient,” he said. “It should be used after you have visited a physician known to you and after you have taken an opinion.”

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