Picture: 123RF/ELLIOT BURLINGHAM
Picture: 123RF/ELLIOT BURLINGHAM

All South Africans will be able to access telephonic consultations with doctors for Covid-19 queries at no cost, courtesy of a Discovery-Vodacom partnership initiative.

You can access the service via the internet or using text messages on your cellphone. Discovery’s existing DrConnect platform, previously available only to Discovery clients will be used to host the service and the two companies have created a joint fund to pay doctors for approximately 100,000 consultations.

Justin Malherbe of Webber Wentzel cautions that although telemedicine technology may be useful in lockdown circumstances, there are important ethical and legal considerations to be aware of.

“For example, a doctor may not be able to obtain a full clinical picture from a remote viewpoint, which could lead to incorrect prescriptions being made, symptoms being missed and possibly an incorrect diagnosis. These are real concerns and the risk remains with the health practitioner to ensure the consultation and their service is condition-appropriate, professional and ethical,” he says.

Malherbe also notes that, as per the Health Professions Council of SA (HSPCA), teleconsultations are only allowed where there is an already established practitioner-patient relationship, except for psychological or psychiatric consultations.

All doctors can download the Discovery HealthID and DrConnect apps from relevant app stores to join the virtual healthcare platform. This means you can ask your doctor to join the DrConnect app if they have the capability to provide teleconsultations.

Doctors will receive guidance on how to consult and how to receive payment from the dedicated fund that Discovery and Vodacom have set up for these specific consultations.

How to access a free online doctor consultation:

  1. Visit Discovery’s Covid-19 information hub or Vodacom’s website. If you belong to Discovery Health Medical Scheme, you can access the service through the Discovery app. Vodacom customers can do a self-assessment via USSD by dialing *111#.

  2. Use the Covid-19 self-screening, risk-assessment tool, by answering a few easy questions.

  3. If you are confirmed at high risk of having Covid-19, a short registration and consent process on the DrConnect app will follow.

  4. Book a virtual consultation with a doctor to assess the need for Covid-19 testing.

  5. If the doctor recommends testing, a photo of the completed pathology form will be sent to you by SMS, WhatsApp or e-mail. The same process will apply to scripts for medicine.

  6. Testing and collecting of medicine will be facilitated by the relevant essential healthcare service providers that you have to visit, for example PathCare Laboratories or a DisChem pharmacy.

  7. Doctors will receive test results electronically and will contact you regarding your results and the next steps.