Medical and Dental Council cautions Ugandans on telemedicine - Whisper Eye

Medical and Dental Council cautions Ugandans on telemedicine

Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioner’s Council has advised Ugandans to think twice before using Telemedicine, saying it is unregulated. Telemedicine refers to the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunication technology.

According to the council, while Telemedicine is being practiced in Uganda and is fast becoming popular, it is still a grey area. Dr. Katumba Ssentongo Gabula, the Registrar Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioner’s Council, says currently there is no law governing telemedicine in the country.

“We know that the technology is working through medical Watsapp groups, there’s no law to guide it. It is a grey area and since there’s no law, we cannot say it is legal or illegal. But as it is, people using it need to be careful,” he said.

The absence of a government policy means that users can’t get any form of relief in case of any problem. Traditionally, patients need to be examined physically by a health worker before diagnosis is made.

However, in telemedicine, patients can use devises like phone and computer to get to get in touch with a doctor. Once they share their symptoms with, the health worker makes diagnosis of what they might be suffering from and prescribes treatment.

Last week, Medical Concierge Group-TMCG officially unveiled Telemedicine services in Uganda.

Dr. Davis Musinguzi, the Managing Director The Medical Concierge Group, said they are interested in ensuring that all Ugandans get the health care they need in the shortest time possible.

“We have a team of doctors skilled in Telemedicine. They have been trained on how to diagnose diseases remotely. Our main focus is to diagnose simple diseases that necessitate over the counter medication. In case of complex ailments, we have a team that can carry out sight visits and even do lab work before they prescribe medication,” he said.

Dr. Charles Olaro, the Director Curative Services in the Health Ministry, says there are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to the use of telemedicine in the country.

He says more research needs to be done to try and determine how the services should be run because they pose a very high risk to patients. “We need to go back and see what is provided for in the law because the practice of such medicine poses many risks to patients,” Dr. Olaro said.

Robinah Kaitiritimba, the Executive Director Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation, says the while telemedicine has the potential to improve access to medical services.

Dr. Ssentongo says works are under way to better regulate the field, adding that some of the areas that will be addressed will be conditions under, which a doctor can be held liable.

“We shall look at a number of things under the regulation like how patient information should be handled and who can be held liable in case something goes wrong. We are also going to set safety measures during online prescriptions of medicines so that patients get what they need.”

Elizabeth Magara, an engineer says that telemedicine would simplify access to medication for so many people. She however, says both doctors and patients would have to maintain the utmost level of sincerity for it work. “If the diagnosis is correct this works. If the symptoms are easy, it saves time and energy. But if someone tells lies or tells symptoms that are not right, it would be risky. It exposes people to unnecessary medication,” Magara said.

Despite the reservations, Dr. Ekwaro Obuku, the president of the Uganda Medical Association, says telemedicine is an important intervention that will address the human resource gap. “This is a crucial intervention to increase access to universal health coverage. Uganda needs another 35,000. 5,000 of these should be specialists but most of them leave the country after they qualify. So, until government comes up with a policy to retain specialists, telemedicine is our next best option,” he said.