Gone are the days where visiting the doctor for a check-up took a significant amount of time and effort. Recently, several online medical consultation platforms and apps have sprouted up, which allow people to seek medical advice from a doctor with their smartphones. However, the Karnataka Medical Council (KMC) has recently denounced the use of such apps, going so far as to say that they should be banned.
“Online consultation using these apps violates ethical medical practice. These apps are unethical and there is no question about it,” states Karnataka Medical Council Vice President Dr Kanchi Prahlad.
The Medical Council of India (MCI) has listed a code of medical ethics which all doctors must adhere to, and the KMC feels that providing consultations over online platforms violates this code.
The doctor further notes that it is only when consultations are done in person that the patient examined is properly, allowing for any later complications to be avoided. The KMC states that this is the same as “playing with a patient’s life.”
However, this view is not shared by all doctors. Many medical practitioners feel that online consultations may save time and allow for more people to access healthcare. Patients, on the other hand, get almost instant access to a doctor who can then prescribe medication or lab tests as deemed necessary. One Bengaluru based physician notes that utilising such a platform has made it easier to reach more people and added that patients might find it easier to approach someone online out of fear of being shamed.
Responding to arguments such as this, the KMC has one question: how can the quality of healthcare be effectively assessed? “It can’t be determined properly, that’s the whole point,” adds Dr Kanchi. While the KMC takes cognisance of the role played by technology in the healthcare industry, it dismisses the virtual platforms which give medical advice.
The problem doesn’t end there alone. An online presence means that patients have the ability to be relatively more anonymous than in person. This opens up another set of concerns altogether with regard to safety and confidentiality.
Dr Sweta Singh, a gynaecologist from NCR, received a really awkward query from a man in November 2016. The 35-year-old patient wanted to know if it was possible that a child he had sexually assaulted could get pregnant. While she took the appropriate action against the man, the process took time as she did not have access to his contact details.
The KMC has sought for such apps and platforms to be banned, the outcome of which is yet to be known.