MOH must crack down on conveniently issued e-MCs

A posed photo of a person using telemedicine apps. PHOTO: ST FILE

That a reporter was able to secure an electronic medical certificate (MC) by pretending to be sick is indicative of how obliging the doctors on the telemedicine app are (Consulting doctor without leaving home, and in less than 5 minutes, Sept 8).

Such doctors easily and almost automatically churn out e-MCs out of convenience rather than medical justification.

I am not alone in sensing the rot. The College of Family Physicians Singapore and the Singapore Medical Association have repeatedly said that there must be a high standard of care. A doctor in a T-shirt in his living room running through a perfunctory question-and-answer routine makes a mockery of those who studied hard to become a respected doctor.

Currently, e-MCs are not labelled as such, and look no different from the traditional MCs signed electronically and issued by a clinic. Steps must be taken to differentiate between the two. The doctor on the app must be identified and sign the e-MC. In fact, all the messages and videos from the teleconsultation must form part of the medical records. Surprisingly, many telemedicine services seem to have opted out, stating in a disclaimer that they do not keep records due to the Personal Data Protection Act.

Along with fuss-free quick e-MCs, I have also heard of telehealth clinics that deliver cough mixture to patients' homes, and of telehealth clinics that openly tout for business in schools like the Institute of Technical Education. These profit-driven exercises discredit the good that other noble doctors do.

Teleconsultation is easy money for the doctor that dispenses simplistic healthcare information. If the ability to dispense e-MCs was taken away from telemedicine services, would patients and clinics continue to support this push for telemedicine?

The overriding concern of good doctors should always be patient welfare, not cheap convenience for patients. The Ministry of Health must take a firm stand and tell the public - be it the courts, schools or human resource practitioners - that it is within their right to reject e-MCs that are given under dubious circumstances.

Janet Lim Poh Eng

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline MOH must crack down on conveniently issued e-MCs. Subscribe