Regulator wags finger at online medical certificates

2 minute read

The latest AHPRA newsletter warns doctors off providing medical certificates without a real-time consult.

The health practitioner regulator has fired another warning shot at online-only telehealth clinics, this time aimed at businesses that provide medical certificates without a real-time consult.

In its latest newsletter, the Medical Board of Australia included a section advising doctors that medical certificates are technically medical services where both the AHPRA code of conduct and telehealth guidelines apply.

“Doctors employed by companies advertising ‘online medical certificates’ that are ‘quick and easy’ – with patients receiving an emailed certificate within minutes of completing an online questionnaire, without a consultation – may be breaching professional standards,” the article read.

Online-only telehealth clinics have proliferated since the pandemic, with many geared toward specific illnesses or issues.

A simple Google search for “medical certificate” currently returns results for 12 different online clinics offering certificates for as little as $11 a pop – and that’s just the first page.

Some advertise bargain rates for multi-day certificates – $18 for one day, $36 for multiple days – while others promise to deliver a certificate “in minutes”.

At least one clinic offered to backdate certificates.

“The community places a great deal of trust in doctors,” the Medical Board said.

“Consequently, doctors have been given the authority to sign a variety of documents, including sickness certificates, on the assumption they will only sign statements that they know, or reasonably believe, to be true.”

The warning comes just a few weeks after AHPRA and the Medical, Pharmacy and Nursing and Midwifery Boards of Australia co-signed a statement outlining concerns about single-issue telehealth clinics.

In the statement, the boards flagged telehealth services “designed to provide customers with access to a predetermined medicine” and reiterated the role that real-time consults play in good medicine.

“Regardless of what model of care they use to prescribe or dispense, all health practitioners should be prepared to be able to explain to their Board how their practice meets their professional obligations to provide safe and appropriate health care,” they said. To date, there has not been a wider compliance campaign aimed at single-issue telehealth.

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