Irish Medical Organisation

GPs call on Government to stop insurance companies offering customers doctors consultations via smartphones and online

Wednesday 25th February 2015. The GP Committee of the IMO has called on the Government to immediately stop health insurance companies offering their customers access to Doctors by phone or video conference (known as “Telemedicine”). A leading health insurance company (Aviva) is now promoting what it describes as a doctors consultation via video on smartphone and the VHI is promoting a service called LloydsOnlineDoctor with a view to making out prescriptions for customers.

Speaking today, Dr. Ray Walley, Chairman of the GP Committee of the IMO strongly criticised these practices and warned that they could raise serious risks for patients; “The Government needs to step in immediately to prevent these practices happening. These are not medical consultations in any real meaning of the word. There are serious risks of misdiagnosis or prescription errors because there is no proper consultation between patient and doctor and there is no personalised continuity of care or opportunity for a doctor to understand the personal and family medical history of the individual in question.”

Dr. Walley continued; “you cannot replicate the experience of a personal one-to-one consultation between a patient and their GP over a phoneline or through a video on a smartphone. GPs work best where there is personalised continuity of care between the GP and the patient and where the GP has the opportunity to meet with and engage personally with the patient in order to fully understand how the patient feels and to examine the patient physically if necessary. As a practicing GP I can testify to the countless situations where it would have been impossible for me to diagnose the real medical issues troubling a patient if the consultation had taken place by phone or video.”

Dr. Walley said that there was a need for Government to move now to halt this practice; “just because something can be done does not mean it should be done and telemedicine is clearly one such area. There are huge issues here; what is the reporting relationship between the online doctor and the patient’s normal GP, who insures the doctors against medical error, are the insurance companies merely trying to distract attention from their own rising premiums and so on.”

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