Africa is lagging far behind its European peers when it comes to doctors using the internet and social media to interact with patients, and it will take co-operation among nations to find a remedy and close the gap.
Addressing delegates from various organisations and countries around the world at the 21st conference organised by the Association of Medical Councils of Africa (Amcoa) in Cape Town, Health Department director-general Malebona Matsoso said it was time for advanced countries to share their experiences with those less fortunate.
She said although only 29% of people in Africa used the internet, in Europe this figure stood at 79%.
Matsoso emphasised that technology and social media had their own disadvantages when it came to the medical profession, as in some instances it could not allow doctor/patient relations and confidentiality.
“It is a new era in which every person can be assessed from far, many kilometres away. It is no secret that, as a society, information techno- logy has become a way of life and we do get benefits from the internet, but we need to use it cautiously,” said Matsoso.
“This mobile technology, as powerful as it is – you can talk to someone on the other side of the line, who could pretend to be a doctor but they are not – but still the computer technology has improved some aspects of the medical profession,” she pointed out.
She said patients were now opting for internet advice rather than visiting healthcare centres because in healthcare centres there were long queues.
Health Professions Council of SA president Kgosi Letlape said although medical practitioners were starting to use technology and internet communications with their patients, “the profession’s basics have not changed and should be adhered to at all times”.
“The rules still apply. You still put patients first and maintain patient confidentiality,” said Letlape.
Amcoa president George Magoha said even though medical practitioners were talking to each other about the profession’s challenges, “I think we would do a lot more (engagements)”.
He said engaging patients on the internet had its own disadvantages.
“How do we make sure you’re not talking to a robot, programmed to interact with patients?” asked Magoha.
He said use of the internet when dealing with patients “should be interrogated”.