The Government Employee Medical Scheme (GEMS) has denied reports that it authorised communication staff working at public relations firm Martina Nicholson Associates to give medical education under their online advice column titled Dr Joe and The Times reports, it has also launched an investigation into the claim.
Dr Joe was an online service for members of the medical aid who wanted to discuss health concerns with a doctor. The report says that on 26 September‚ an article was run quoting former employees of Martina Nicholson Associates, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying 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”.
The report says almost two weeks after the article‚ GEMS sent out a response. "GEMS takes this matter very seriously and has instituted an investigation to probe the veracity of these claims." GEMS principal officer Gunvant Goolab said: “GEMS is very concerned about this allegation and we have instituted an investigation into the issue and will respond as soon as the investigation has been concluded.”
The response also said: "GEMS takes the healthcare needs of our members seriously and will act without fear or favour against any conduct that places the scheme and Industry in disrepute."
The report says GEMS denied it used the PR agency to answer questions from members about their health. However‚ articles produced by Martina Nicholson Associates about various health topics and diseases were re-used in the Dr Joe replies to concerned medical aid members.
The report says, also exposed, were a handful of Dr Joe answers that doctors confirmed were erroneous‚ suggesting that these answers were not written by medical personnel.
In one case‚ an annual mammogram was suggested for a woman with asymmetric breasts‚ which is not standard medical advice. Mammograms cause radiation and are not usually recommended once a year. In another answer‚ Dr Joe suggested incorrectly it was almost as easy to fall pregnant at age 39 as it is in one's late 20s. In another answer‚ a disease description appeared to be copied off the health website‚ WebMD.
The report notes, however, that in nearly every answer, Dr Joe encouraged the writer to visit their doctor to get specific medical tests or treatment.
GEMS said in its media statement: “GEMS has noted with concern the article published in The Times newspaper, dated 26 September 2017, that states that untrained staff members employed by the scheme’s public relations firm dispense medical advice on the online member information support channel.
“GEMS takes this matter very seriously and has instituted an investigation to probe the veracity of these claims.
“Dr Guni Goolab, principal officer of GEMS confirms that Martina Nicholson Associates is contracted to GEMS to provide public relations services. He is aware of the TimesLive article and the allegation made. ‘GEMS is very concerned about this allegation and we have instituted an investigation into the issue and will respond as soon as the investigation has been concluded.’ says Goolab.
“GEMS has never commissioned or authorised any party, including MNA, to dispense medical advice using the channel.
“GEMS takes the healthcare needs of our members seriously and will act without fear or favour against any conduct that places the scheme and industry in disrepute.”
See MedicalBrief report – https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/gems-calls-time-dr-googles-house-calls/The Times report