The Tamil Nadu Medical Council has issued letters to doctors, saying that they're not allowed to list their names on online doctor listing platforms, such as Practo, because they believe that this is tantamount to advertising. They have asked doctors to remove their names or they will take action. This has become a sticky issue for many reasons. Doctors have always been considered to be trusted professionals, and one of the jobs of the medical council is to make sure that medicine is practiced ethically. Lots of senior doctors believe that listing names on directories cheapens the medical profession, because then doctors will be treated as business men rather than professionals. They feel that this is below a doctor's dignity , and what doctors should focus on is taking good care of their patients. Their reputation , earned after a lifetime of taking good care of their patients, will help them to attract more patients.
This is the counsel of perfection , and it made a lot of sense in the past , when doctors were few and far between. They basically just had to hang out their shingle and patients would line up to see them. However, I don't think this is a reasonable attitude in this day and age.
We need to differentiate between advertising and providing information, and this where confusion arises , especially in this digital age. By not allowing doctors to reach out to patients digitally, the medical council is actually doing a disservice, not only to doctors but to patients as well. It is because doctors have not been able to connect with patients directly, that we now have so many middlemen who ask for kick-backs and commissions , in order to refer patients to specialists. This has now become endemic , and it is this kind of corruption which is causing society to lose trust in the medical profession.
The good thing about a digital platform is that it bridges the gap between doctor and patient, and it allows patients access to far more information about their medical options than they could get in the past. This is a healthy trend, which should be encouraged. While it's true that sometimes this can be abused, I think it's dangerous to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are lots of advantages in encouraging patients to use online platforms to connect with doctors, because once a doctor is online, he's forced to be open and transparent. This is a great way of creating trust, because when a doctor says something on his website, it is public information which can be monitored, and the council can make sure that the information which is being provided is accurate. Fees can be published online, thus helping to reduce sticker-shock. This will help to keep costs down , and make medical care more affordable.
Why are council members , who are usually senior medical doctors, upset about doctors going online ? Part of this is because they are conservative, and there is always resistance to something new. Senior doctors are often uncomfortable with the idea of an online presence, because they feel this lowers the medical profession's dignity. It is true that sometimes doctors will take undue advantage of this platform and provide information which is misleading. I think rather than refuse to allow doctors to have an online presence, it makes much more sense for the council to move with the times and become patient friendly as well as doctor friendly, by providing guidelines which explain what doctors are allowed to do and not allowed to do, so that they can create a win- win situation. It makes no sense that they use an Act which was passed over 50 years ago in order to draft guidelines, because that act is often irrelevant in today's day and age. The council needs to move with the times and help doctors to take better care of their patients - this is what its major duty is.
This is actually a great opportunity for the council to help India to become a global medical powerhouse. We need to capitalise on the expertise and experience of our doctors. We can export medical expertise without exporting doctors by helping them to use telemedicine to reach out to patients from all over the world. This would be a great way of revitalising the medical profession, and earning valuable foreign exchange for the country. Indian doctors have a great reputation all over the world - let's make use of it by marrying IT and their medical knowledge. Computer engineers made India proud during the IT boom. It is now the turn of the medical profession, and the Medical Council can play a proactive role in doing this by encouraging doctors to go online, so they can display their clinical skill and expertise . For example, surgeons can upload videos of their surgical dexterity; and doctors can provide medical second opinions online very cost effectively. This is a huge opportunity, and if promoted and regulated properly, will also lead to a boom in medical tourism. Rather than clip the wings of Indian doctors, the council should encourage them to help patients all over the world by going online.