For many people, consulting an online doctor is now a fairly routine option. But sometimes, when I am speaking to a new patient online, they admit that they had been feeling a bit nervous about the idea of using an online doctor for the first time- and whilst they were obviously willing to take a chance and “give it a go”, they were not sure if it was actually a genuine service! So, here are a few points that may help with such concerns:
Firstly, any doctor, whether online or in a clinic, must be registered with AHPRA- the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, and they should have a registration number which can be verified at www.ahpra.gov.au. To be registered with AHPRA, a doctor must meet very strict standards- so if their name appears here, you can assume they have been properly assessed and vetted. For instance, I work as an online doctor with www.drsicknote.com.au , and all our medical certificates display the AHPRA registration number of the relevant doctor, so both the patient and employer can verify the doctor’s credentials if they wish.
Whilst the idea of an online doctor may seem very new and ground-breaking, the idea of “telemedicine” has been around for a while, and many doctors are routinely covered by their professional insurance to provide services in this way.
I have also heard people ask whether a doctor can properly assess a patient without seeing them in person. I think this is a very reasonable question. But, having worked as a GP for many years, I can safely say that a large part of day to day work is done by taking a good history. Certain conditions, such as migraine, viral illnesses, gastroenteritis, period pain (to name but a few), are easily diagnosed by asking the right questions.
Sometimes, a few tests are needed at the start, but if a person has already had the proper baseline investigations, then ongoing care, such as prescriptions or medical certificates for missed work-days can be safely issued without having to visit a doctor every few months. Unfortunately, if a person is going to lie about an illness to get a sick day, they can just as easily do that in person as online. In the end, anyone who behaves in this manner is their own worst enemy- as they will quickly run into trouble with their employer. It’s also important to point out, that sometimes a person who is taking a lot of sick leave may be suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, for example- so, if a patient returns for medical certificate after medical certificate (whether that be to an online doctor or a regular GP), usually the pattern will be noticed and a good doctor will ask if everything is OK.
I’ve also had a few patients who were a little shy about appearing “on camera” at first. However, all of these people soon relaxed when they realised that, just as in a surgery, an online doctor is not there to judge their appearance, nor indeed the appearance of their home- the focus will be on the health problem.
Most of us are already comfortable using Skype, Viber, Facetime or other similar “virtual” methods of communication – therefore, using an online doctor is quite a natural step to take, and one that can offer a lot of choice and convenience to people in their busy lives.