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Using online technology, new service Dr Sicknote allows you to stay home and still see the GP
Consider these situations. Ajay has chronic high blood pressure but it is controlled with the regular medication he takes. The pills are running out and he needs a doctor’s prescription, but deadlines are looming at work and he can’t take time off to visit the medical clinic. Before he knows, it’s been a few weeks and his health is compromised as he has stopped his medications.
The crowing sound of the rooster on Ruchi’s alarm wakes her and she stretches to shut it off. The sudden movement aggravates her back pain and now it is too excruciating to get up for work. She rests for the day and by evening she is fine. However, a workplace rule insists on production of a medical certificate when she resumes work.
Melbourne-based GP and entrepreneur Dr Sachin Patel observed these patterns when consulting patients. A large number of people coming to his practice came for a medical certificate for minor or routine ailments. Instead of resting in bed and recovering, they had to queue up at clinics. It not only wasted their time and his, but also millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money through Medicare. He felt that the time he spent attending to these patients could be better spent in helping others who needed more attention. He got thinking and spoke to other doctors who had similar experiences and the idea of ‘Dr Sicknote’ was born.
This new online health consultation service was launched in December 2015 and is set to disrupt the traditional way of ‘seeing’ a doctor. All you need is internet access.
Patients complete an online form and then book an online consultation with one of the participating GPs. This is done via Skype but very soon a video consultation facility will be provided within the website. The team of doctors are registered Australian GPs with a broad range of experience in traditional general practice surgeries.
“Our aim is to help patients, doctors and Medicare make the best use of these resources by allowing safe online access to medical services where physical contact with a doctor is not required,” Dr Patel says.
If you are feeling under the weather and know you can recuperate with some rest, you need a repeat referral or if your routine prescription needs to be renewed, you can use the online service.
Dr Patel says that, just as most complaints by patients that come into his surgeries for sick notes are taken at face value, online GPs work on the same premise. They do not ask for proof of diarrhea, heavy periods, back pain, common cold symptoms or migraine – some of the most common complaints.
Speaking to Indian Link, Dr Patel says Dr Sicknote will reduce congestion in waiting rooms and bring the Australian medical industry a step closer to the digital age.
“This kind of system has long existed in Europe and the USA, and bringing it to Australia has the potential to save the Medicare system $3 billion per year,” he says. “The world is virtually connected now. The under-35s lead their lives through the mobile phone and we have to cater to this reality.”
Dr Patel stresses however that this service does not replace a physical doctor and safety is of the utmost priority. If the consulting doctor feels the patient needs to see a doctor in person, they will advise accordingly. So too, records of patients are maintained in the strictest privacy, just as in a normal medical practice.
Some thoughts that come to mind: What if people misuse the system? What would my workplace think if I produced an online medical certificate?
“We ask many questions to determine whether it is the safe and the right thing to do when giving a medical certificate,” Dr Patel explains. “We have been trained to be suspicious of the whole world, but most people are good.”
He believes that most HR departments have moved on in terms of engaging and trusting their staff and want to make their organisation a comfortable and friendly workplace. Providing convenience and flexibility is just one aspect of this and Dr Sicknote provides value here.
This was confirmed by Geeta Dhir, an HR professional from a large NGO, who reiterated Dr Patel’s thoughts. “If an employee is suspected to be misusing their sick/personal leave, it would be evident from surrounding facts and previous behaviour. An online certificate by itself would not play any role in indicating this,” she says.
Dr Sicknote intends to evolve from just being a sick note and repeat referral provider. They have been proactively contacting companies and employees to determine services that would suit their needs. At the moment, a person has to pay $20 for a medical certificate and there is no Medicare rebate, but Dr Patel has approached Medicare and hopes this will happen soon. He believes once they can show the value of this service and its market, they will come on board.
“We can make all sorts of online health services accessible to people. With both partners working in many families, juggling work and home life becomes tough. If we can make people’s life a little easier, it would be worth it,” Dr Patel says. “Oftentimes, people don’t seek medical help just because it is difficult to fit it into their day. Technology can make this possible.”