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Healthcare service aggregators need greater supervision: Medical associations

Tele-consultations may have been a boon during the pandemic, but online aggregator platforms of healthcare services including Practo, Pristyn Care, MedFin, have come in for flak from some medical associations like the Bangalore Ophthalmic Society.

The Society has cautioned doctor-members against associating with such platforms. It alleged that such platforms adopted unethical methods to gain patients by charging commissions, for example, which was in violation of The Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations Act, 2002. .Many doctors, whom BusinessLine had spoken with, now call for greater regulatory supervision of this segment.

“Indian Medical Association (IMA) doesn’t support any act which doesn’t conform with the National Medical Commission’s ethical codes laid out for health practitioners. Doctors can’t put on hoardings to advertise themselves. People should not take online treatment without doing the proper investigation and background check of doctors. This is currently an unregulated space, so consumers need to be cautious,”Dr Sahajanand Singh, IMA – National President told BusinessLine.

Speaking on the conditions of anonymity, another doctor pointed to the culture of commissions, discounts and paid features through which doctors can improve their visibility and get better reviews. While doctors are not allowed to advertise, the aggregators advertise services and “drive online traffic” to empanelled doctors, he said.

“I find it unethical. If you will search top ten doctors in a particular area on an online health platform …those who pay more membership fee, appear in the list. Many a time, I have noticed that the reviews of doctors are also tweaked,” a Delhi-based doctor added.

Some online apps onboard health practitioners without verifying their credentials, said industry insiders. “This space is unregulated. Not all aggregators are negligent when it comes to verification of health practitioners. But yes, some are in a hurry to bring as many professionals on their platform …even if they don’t qualify. I was also called when I wasn’t a qualified clinical nutritionist,” said a founder of an online platform, who did not want to be named.

Health expert Harshal Joshi observed that this space was entirely new and it would take time for the law to evolve. However, he added, “remedies are available to consumers under the law. They can approach consumer redressal agencies to fight their case. These courts are consumer friendly and they don’t even need a lawyer to represent themselves.”

BusinessLine approached various health apps for their viewpoint, most refused to respond or go on record. A response from Practo to BusinessLine’s emailed query is awaited.

`Transparent operation’
Countering the allegations, Pristyn Care said, most of their surgeons work exclusively with them on a monthly fixed pay model and their remuneration was independent of the consultations/surgery fees charged from the patient.

“Our team obtains details of their qualifications, undertakes a full reference check, experience and in some cases reaches out to the previous employers. After this verification, each surgeon undergoes a well-defined onboarding programme. The new surgeons shadow existing surgeons to understand Pristyn Care tech enabled healthcare delivery model. This specially designed programme is to on-board them before they can be assigned surgeries,” Pristyn Care told BusinessLine, adding that they abide by the rules.

“Our model of operation is very transparent. Pristyn Care takes care of patients throughout the treatment journey starting from their first OPD (consult), diagnostics, admission process, IPD (surgery), discharge process and ensures post discharge care, including regular post-op consultations, medical check-ups etc. A dedicated care coordinator is assigned to every patient to handhold them through their hospitalization and to also provide attendant care,” it further stated. The Hindu BusinessLine

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