GEMS calls time out on Dr Google’s house calls

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The “House call with Dr Joe” column on the Government Employee Medical Scheme (GEMS) website has been taken down just days after story was run about how PR staffers from Martina Nicholson Associations, using Google, were allegedly the ones offering medical health advice and not a qualified doctor as perceived, reports The Times.

“Apologies for the inconvenience‚ this page is currently under review‚” was the message displayed on the page where dozens of questions and answers relating to a vast number of health issues from cancer‚ fertility and medication had been listed prior to the report. Health Professions Council of SA spokesperson Priscilla Sekhonyana said they were investigating the allegations about the column, the report says.

Two former staffers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had previously told The Times that they and Nicholson herself answered questions on cancer, fertility, depression, infections, medication use and treating children’s concentration issues, all by using “Dr Google”.

A former staff member said: “As far as medical training [was concerned, we had] none. And I remember once or twice that (Nicholson) called a doctor. But Google was our friend,” said a former staffer. “It was only on one or two occasions where I ever heard of her wanting to consult a doctor,” she added. “(It was) not my proudest work, (it is) actually the work I want to forget I ever did. I still cringe when I hear the name Joe.”

According to the report, GEMS had insisted that the answers had all been supplied by qualified medical practitioners. Company owner Martina Nicholson had last week forwarded a response from GEMS chief healthcare officer Vuyo Gqola‚ who said: “All content is approved by medical doctors‚ both prior to being sent on to the member by GEMS and also prior to being placed on the website by GEMS.”

The report says Nicholson herself had dismissed claims that she used lay people to offer medical advice to GEMS members‚ stating that the scathing allegations were made by a disgruntled former employee. She later said her staffers only wrote the top and bottom of the answers. “The work we do here at MNA is actually only a very small part of an extensive process‚” she said.

The report says several doctors approached pointed out mistakes in numerous answers including one about the cancer risk associated with asymmetric breasts. A pharmacist said some of the answers were also problematic because they suggested treatments.

Diagnosing and treating people over the internet without a full examination and medical history is illegal.

The Times report

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