HomeLocalTelephone consultations by doctors illegal, unethical— HPA

Telephone consultations by doctors illegal, unethical— HPA

SEVERAL doctors in Harare have resorted to offering consultation services over the telephone in a development that is compromising the health of individuals, The Standard has established.


In a snap survey last week, a number of people said they had on various occasions called their doctors by phone when not feeling well and were instructed on what medication to take and had to pay for the service later.

Health Professions Authority (HPA) secretary general Shepherd Humure last week said members of the public seeking medical attention should desist from doing so.

HPA is the regulatory body for all health professionals and institutions in the country, with the specific mandate to uphold and promote high-quality healthcare.

“The Health Professions Authority wishes to advise all members of the public against telephone health consultation or telephone health services which have emerged on the market,” Humure said in a statement.

“The authority regards telephone health services as an illegal, unprofessional and unethical practice in Zimbabwe as it falls short of minimal standards that must be met in patient care.”

Telephone health services are not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe as for many years; various radio stations have invited doctors in their studios to attend to the questions by phone from patients listening to the radio.

Often the doctors recommended what medication the patients had to take for free while advising patients with more complicated conditions to go and see a doctor in person.

Humure however said telephone consultations were not sanctioned by the authority.

A specialist physician who declined to be named for professional reasons said telephone consultations were not the best because there could be critical gaps in relation to the adequacy of data collected over the phone and premature conclusions.

“Sometimes communication over the phone can also be unclear,” he said. “A physical consultation is better because it allows the doctor to carry out basic but requisite physical inspections on the patient and see if they tally with what they would be saying,” he said.

The physician added that wrong diagnoses could be high, particularly when dealing with patients unknown to the doctor.

Telephone consultation practices are prevalent in the West where a high proportion of out-of-hours calls are dealt with over the phone.

A study recently carried out in the UK however showed that 33% of patients who received medical advice over the telephone had originally wanted a home visit. Out of all those patients, 25% were unhappy with the telephone advice, with 49% indicating that they would have preferred a home visit.

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