Getting a medical certificate online may be quick and convenient, and for many minor illnesses it makes perfect sense- but it’s not appropriate in every situation. As an online doctor, I cannot physically assess a patient, so I need to be sure that the problem is indeed minor and does not require examination. There are certain minor illnesses that any sensible adult can recognise- and an online medical certificate is a perfect solution in these cases. So what conditions are we talking about?
The most common one, unsurprisingly, is the common cold. Typically, the patient reports a runny or blocked nose, perhaps some sinus congestion, a mild cough, a sore throat or a low grade fever. Most are not particularly unwell, but they work in jobs where these symptoms are unacceptable- for instance, in food or catering, healthcare, call centres or in the aviation industry. I ensure the patient has no worrying symptoms, such as breathlessness, chest pain or weakness, and then issue the emedical certificat for the necessary period of time.
Another common reason for a person to seek an online medical certificate is migraine. Migraine can come on very rapidly indeed, and if you suffer from migraine, or know somebody who does, you’ll also know that a busy waiting room with bright lights and crying babies is probably the last place on Earth you’d want to be. An online medical certificate can be of massive help to a person in the throes of a bad migraine. Again, there are certain important safety points that an online doctor ought to check- for example, the patient must have a previously confirmed diagnosis of migraine, and the current episode must be the same as their usual migraine pattern. If the headache is new, or quite different to the person’s usual headache, then an online medical certificate is not suitable- and a visit to the doctor in person will be necessary.
Viral gastroenteritis (or “gastro” as it’s commonly known) is another condition I frequently see as an online doctor. Again, most patients recognise the pattern of vomiting, diarrhoea and fever, and are aware that rest, rehydration and quarantining themselves from other people for day or two is the best course of action. An online medical certificate allows the patient stay close to the toilet, whilst also avoiding spread of infection. However, if the person has constant abdominal (tummy) pain, is passing blood in their bowel movements, or is feeling particularly weak or dizzy, they will require assessment by their doctor in person.
Period pain can be very debilitating for women, and an online medical certificate may be appropriate. However, it is vital to take a careful history- particularly to ensure the period has come at the expected time, and to rule out the possibility of pregnancy. Pelvic infection can also present with lower abdominal pain-thus, if there are fevers, or abnormal vaginal discharge, it is safer that a woman sees her doctor in person.
If you are unsure whether your health issue will be suitable for an online medical certificate, certain online services (such as www.drsicknote.com.au) will accept queries, or will even schedule an online consultation and refund you if it turns out not to be appropriate. The vast majority of the diagnosing a doctor does is based on the story the patient tells – but if an online doctor tells you that you should be assessed in person, this means that an examination is needed- your safety and well-being has to be the first priority. If you were hoping to spend your precious sick leave in bed, this may be inconvenient, and it may be disappointing- but better to be safe than sorry!