Online GPs: can they be safe?

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Bridie O’Shea shares the pros and cons of the online GP service, Doctus.  

Have a headache? Google says that you may just need to drink more water or that you’re having a brain aneurysm. Sore throat? Google is undecided once again; you could just have the common cold, or on the other hand, it could be throat cancer.

That’s the danger with searching health symptoms online and self-diagnosis; far too many variables come into play, and what can be a correct diagnosis for one person, may not be correct for the next.

That being said, who really wants to wait in a doctor’s surgery – most likely an hour past your appointment time – just to be told that you’ve got a cold and get nailed a ridiculous fee at the end of it?

Maybe Doctus, a medical online service, is the answer?

Dr Rodney Beckwith is the Director of Reliance GP Super Clinic and co-founder of Doctus; an online service that offers consultations for half the price in the comfort of your own home. The online service has been around for a few years and has served over six thousand patients.

“For $24.95 patients can go online, select a medication they need, and go through a systematic questionnaire that covers all the important points for that product. The questionnaire is then reviewed by a doctor and the medication can be delivered to you, or a script can be sent to you or your local pharmacy,” Dr Beckwith told the Today Show.

No more waiting rooms, no more big fees, no more babies crying in the toy corner or people sneezing on you. Sounds like a pretty sick deal, right?

However, one of the very convincing arguments against this kind of service is that when you have a regular GP they get to know you and your medical history. You are able to build a relationship between you and your doctor, which can help with their diagnosis. You don’t get this from an online service.

Dr Beckwith admits that this system isn’t trying to replace the GP. “I’m a GP that sees patients everyday in my practice in Gosford and this is only a complementary thing that deals with the simplest issues only,” he explained to the Today Show. These simple issues can include prescriptions for blood pressure, contraception, asthma, cholesterol, hayfever, digestion, inflammation and STI medications.

“Lots of young women come and say ‘why do I have to come in here just to get a Pill script?’ and their needs are quite limited, the condition is simple, and the precautions are all quite easily defined, so it’s all done through the questionnaire,” Dr Beckwith said.

Now, I took the questionnaire just as an experiment to see if I could get a prescription for the Pill. All I had to do was to select the brand that I wanted, complete a series of 10 questions, and then my script was in the checkout cart ready to go! Took me less than five minutes – shorter than it would be to book an appointment over the phone to my local GP. Delivery is all through the Australia Express Post system too, but only the script gets sent through. In Australia, it’s illegal for doctors to dispense medication, it has to go through a pharmacy first.

But as Dr Beckwith explained, this service is only for simpler medical issues. Anything more serious – like someone wanting antibiotics – wouldn’t be covered by Doctus.

So where does that leave us? Doctus may be a good solution for people who are just looking for script refills without having to make inconvenient appointments with a GP. Yet, if you have a health concern, whether a minor cold or a serious illness, don’t rely on the online services for a diagnosis. There is a reason why we have GP’s and why the waiting rooms are always full: doctors know what they’re doing.

Note: Yak Media and the University of Newcastle do not promote online diagnosis services over visiting a GP. This article was written to inform individuals about the Doctus service, not to promote online health diagnoses. If you have a medical issue, visiting a doctor should be first priority.

 

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