Online medical consultations have recently been introduced in Australia and it has been suggested the service will revolutionise the way patients consult with their doctors. However, this system could also open the door to a myriad of safety concerns.
According to Doctors on Demand, the service will allow patients to have live medical consultations over the internet and will enable doctors to treat patients and write prescriptions. The service is being promoted as a fuss-free and economical health care alternative that will alleviate the need for face-to-face consultations.
Legal obligation to provide a reasonable standard of care
When any new system is introduced it’s essential to consider how it might impact a doctor’s legal obligations to provide patients with a reasonable standard of care.
The importance of physical examinations
Physical examinations are a fundamental component of most face-to-face medical consultations and allow doctors an opportunity to see first-hand what physical injuries or symptoms a patient may be exhibiting. The opportunity to take a patient’s blood pressure, temperature and pulse are integral to a doctors’ ability to provide patients with a reasonable standard of care.
The potential for misdiagnosis
The potential for doctors to misdiagnose patients with potentially serious and life-threatening conditions is no doubt increased when a patient is only relaying their version of signs and symptoms over the internet.
Children's health at risk
This is particularly concerning when we consider the health of our children. If a consultation were to take place over the internet, how could a doctor check the child’s ears for signs of infection or listen to their chest for signs of pneumonia? Parents may be lured by the time-saving benefits of such a system however it’s possible they could be putting their children’s health at risk by ignoring the importance of face-to-face consultations.
Risks of medication abuse
Furthermore, enabling patients to obtain a repeat prescription for medication with relatively limited consultation and input from a trained medical practitioner could open the door to medication abuse. It is worrying that under this new service, patients who may be unaware of the extent or severity of their condition or those with mental health issues can simply fill out an online questionnaire and receive repeat medication. The question has to be asked: if a patient is misusing the online service to obtain repeat prescriptions with harmful consequences, who is legally responsible? Is it the operators of the website? Is it the doctors who are writing scripts without knowing or properly assessing a patient? Or is it the patient; someone who may be mentally unstable or uneducated as to the effect of the medication they are using?
Risk vs reward of online medical consultations
As more activities in our day to day lives are available in the online environment, it is no wonder that the medical profession has considered this option. But it’s important to consider whether the potential risks posed to our health and safety outweigh the time-saving benefits such a system may offer.
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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 7, 2016.