The Sunday Mail
Shamiso Yikoniko – Health Reporter
ECONET Wireless’s Dial-A-Doc is operating illegally as it is not approved by the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Council of Zimbabwe (MDPCZ), an official has said.
The MDPCZ and the Health Professions Authority of Zimbabwe (HPAZ) ruled that mobile phone health services were not supported by law. Econet recently partnered Ponai Medical Centre to offer Dial-A-Doc, which allows patients to access advisory messages from doctors over their phones. The mobile operator charges USc70 per minute for the service.
MDPCZ registrar Mrs Josephine Mwakutuya said: “It is a requirement at law that any form of medical or dental practice in the country be approved by the council.
“This is to ensure that the public is protected from, among other things, incompetent, unprofessional or unethical medical service.
“In the opinion of the council, such an unlicensed service that requires the expertise of doctors is illegal.”
Medical practitioners are required to register as provided for by Section 99 of the Health Professions Act (Chapter 27:19).
“The authority regards telephone health services as illegal, unprofessional and unethical practice as it falls short of minimal standards that must be met in patient care,” said HPAZ in statement.
Mrs Mwakutuya said her council wrote to Econet highlighting reservations over the launch of such a service.
“In both a letter and email dated December 12, 2014, the council wrote to the Econet chief operations manager offering advice that in its proposed Dial-A-Doc practice is medically unprofessional and also illegal.
“To date, the council has not received a response,” she said.
Econet corporate communications manager Mr Ranga Mberi said they have responded to the Council and made sure that the advisory service is in line with the law and all health regulations.
“We advised the Council that Dial-A-Doc is not a medical practice. It merely provides a useful platform through which health advice is offered to subscribers, by fully qualified doctors,” he said.
Moreso, Ponai Medical Centre chief executive officer Dr Peter Mbizvo defended the mobile health service.
“It is a partnership between EcoHealth and us, the health service providers.
“EcoHealth provides the platform while the health practitioners provide an advisory health service solution,” he explained.
“This is not replacing the need for face-to-face consultation. It is an advisory service targeted at the previously marginalised population.
“It is about inclusivity for people who need health care the most but have limited access due to lack of resources and also due to distance. “We have a lot of challenges in our health service delivery system, largely due to lack of resources.
“Dial-A-Doc was driven by the desire to improve access to health information by virtually cutting the distance between a patient and a doctor, and making access to health information easier and more available.”
In South Africa, Hello Doctor, a mobile-based health platform was launched in 2010 by the MTN group. Ghana also has a similar initiative – Vodafone Healthline – which was established in 2013 for Vodafone customers to seek medical advice and diagnosis via cellphones from medical experts.