MOVE over 'Dr Google', because at least one Gold Coast medico wants to stop the rising trend of self-diagnosis by opening Australia's first online telemedicine hospital.
Docto, founded by intensive care specialist and emergency physician Jon Field, is staffed by fully trained Australian emergency physicians enabling doctors to consult from their desks straight to a smartphone 24 hours a day.
The service has the capability to provide diagnostic and treatment advice, medical reports, and certificates. Doctors can also electronically send prescriptions, request investigations, and provide referrals to the nearest appropriate medical facilities.
"Now with the technology that is available, what would be of value I thought to customers and patients, was to be able to directly access an emergency doctor from wherever they are in the world on any electronic device," says Field.
"We set out to put a group of emergency doctors together, through technology, to provide that service to connect patients and doctors at the touch of a single button, whether that is via text, voice or video call."
Docto hosts medical specialists providing telemedicine consultations by appointment. Specialties include orthopaedics, infectious diseases, travel medicine, dermatology, paediatrics, obstetrics, gynaecology and general surgery.
While the service is offered online, Docto is set to morph into the form of an app in the coming months.
The service is hoping to deter the number of people who self-diagnose using the internet.
"I don't recommend anybody self-diagnose on the internet," says Field.
"With huge volume and variable quality of medical information available, it is vital that the information be interpreted and contextualised. That's what our medical specialists do."
Field says the telemedicine service has received great feedback with around 40 doctors on the books.
"The challenge is getting people to understand the concept of seeing a doctor online," says Field. "It is really a behavioural change that we are encouraging."
The emergency service is almost immediate with patients connected to a doctor under 20 minutes. Meanwhile, specialist services are by appointment.
When asked what his response is to critics who believe online consults are not thorough enough, Field said it's better than not seeing a doctor at all.
"I want to stress that nothing can ever replace seeing a doctor face-to-face but what we are suggesting is that if for whatever reason you can't go, whether that is for geographical or logistical reasons, then this is the next best alternative," he says.
"There are risks, but the advice they get is better than no advice at all if you are in a situation where you cannot get to a doctor.
"We are not seeking to replace face-to-face consultations ever. But if you are in a situation where you are about to get on an aeroplane or logistically it is hard to see a doctor, then this is your next best thing."
Docto recently partnered with Accident and Health International (AHI) to launch AHI TeleHealth.
TeleHealth allows AHI's travellers and expatriates to access an Australian trained emergency physician via video, phone call, email or SMS, 24 hours a day.
AHI CEO Peter Banks says the policy holder simply clicks a button on the AHI App or the Docto website and they can see a doctor from the comfort of their home or hotel room.
"Often when you are travelling in an unfamiliar place, it is the simple questions you want answers to," he says.
"They can simply text, email, video or voice call AHI's TeleHealth for an immediate answer.
"It is preventing medical issues, or at least nipping them in the bud early, that results in the best outcome for the patient and the insurer."