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Telemedicine services strongly criticised by Medical Council President

The President of the Medical Council Dr Rita Doyle has strongly criticised commercial telemedicine services, which she said often result in “inappropriate” prescriptions.

Speaking last month at the 2019 Joint Annual Scientific Meeting of the Association of University Departments of General Practice in Ireland (AUDGPI) and ICGP, Dr Doyle commented: “A fee-paying customer makes a telephone call to an unknown doctor, he or she analyses their issues according to a formulaic questionnaire, then inevitably [issues] a prescription or indeed occasionally a cert for work…

“A lot of my colleagues would hold that the prescription is usually an inappropriate one, such as those for antibiotics not normally recommended in primary care. This relationship is a consumer service rather than a doctor/patient relationship.”

However, she added that telemedicine could have a role in an established doctor/patient relationship.

Dr Doyle also spoke out against radio advertisements by private medical institutions that catered to the “worried well”.

 “I hear these ads on the radio from private hospitals saying, ‘get your doctor to refer you to endoscopy’. I consider this blatant advertising, not just inappropriate but actually downright dangerous. It caters to the worried well and embraces the concept of patients getting what they do not need.”

In her address, Dr Doyle emphasised the vital importance of good communication, noting that poor communication was the biggest single category of complaint to the Medical Council.

The Bray GP, who was addressing an audience of largely GP attendees, continued: “The allegations of not listening or speaking in a derogatory tone are not uncommon. I do know that in the last few years, particularly since the introduction of free GP care to the under-sixes and over-70s, that GPs are under severe time pressure.

“I understand at the end of a very busy day, it can be very difficult to hold your patience and we may make a flippant remark, one we don’t even remember making but that the patient takes home.”

She envisaged that “a module of communication may become mandatory in the five-year cycle of continuing professional development”.

Dr Doyle also emphasised doctors’ role as advocates. “This does not only include advocating for individual patients and their needs, but also for the fair division of funding… We must prioritise for the sick, the old, the poor and the vulnerable and we must not be silenced.”

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