Earlier this year, in May, the Tamil Nadu Medical Council took an unprecedented step, and sent notices to 100 doctors asking them to remove their names from online medical directories, indicating that it is in violation of the Medical Council of India’s Code of Ethics Regulations, 2002. A prominent doctor posted a picture of the letter on a social networking site for doctors based out of India:
The letter clearly identifies the sections that such an act may be taken to violate. The Hindu quotes K. Senthil, the President of the Tamil Nadu Medical Council as saying:
“Most doctors advertise online, claiming that it is just information. Many think that is acceptable. However, this is not supposed to be done. We have decided to send warning letters to 100 doctors giving them 15 days to remove these ads, or risk facing disciplinary action,” said K. Senthil, president of TNMC. Dr. Senthil said the council had found that many doctors paid online registries to ensure that their names appeared among the first. “So we have decided to choose the top 10 doctors across 10 specialties and send them the directive first. This is to act as a warning for all other doctors too. We are now in the process of perusing the registries online,” he said.
I have not heard much commotion being created about this new regulation, but it certainly does seem interesting to me. A couple of days ago, I wrote about the fate of the doctors who were suspended because they circulated a picture of themselves holding a Harlequin Baby. While that event could be attributed to the lack of knowledge about safe online behavior, this represents the other end of the spectrum. Though it is true that the cobwebbed regulations does, if taken literally, make it questionable to advertise one’s practice or specialty in an online forum, there should be room for interpretation of what that means.
In today’s age more people are online-facing than not. People choose to review everything online before they go and make a purchase. Considering that as doctors we are subject to the Consumer Protection Act, logically, there should not be any difference in, say, reviewing a camera before purchasing it or checking out a doctor before going to them. The problem is, there is seldom any quality check, and more often than not, the reviews are ghost-written, self-congratulatory articles approved by the doctor him/herself. This reminds me of a particular surgeon from my Facebook feed, who is very persistent in posting pictures and writing success stories of his surgical adventures in a honey-soaked style.
The concern that patients might be misled by such directories which are neither standardized, nor operate under stringently ethical considerations (one can have paid reviews that paints themselves in a wonderful light). The TNMC bosses have found a way out: they propose a council-approved website which lists all the physicians, divided by area and specialty, thus making search experience for the users as easy as possible. While I have immense faith in the TNMC, as I have seen how efficiently the Tamil Nadu public health sector works, I still think this is a task that is easier said than done.
As someone who prefers blabbering in the relative comfort of the Internet world, I vehemently feel the need to have a trusted, searchable, fully indexed and cross-referenced directory of physicians is a real need in India. The question is: can we build it in time?