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DoctorxDentist a bitter pill for practitioners; medical association steps in while threat of legal action brews

DoctorxDentist a bitter pill for practitioners; medical association steps in while threat of legal action brews

Source: Business Times
Article Date: 07 Nov 2020
Author: Claudia Chong & Olivia Poh

Following complaints from members, the SMA collates list of doctors who do not wish to be associated with the website.

A platform that publishes reviews and listings of medical practitioners is drawing flak from some within the industry, even prompting a group to threaten legal action against the startup.

Following complaints from its members, the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) has stepped in to collate a public list of doctors who do not wish to be associated with the website, called DoctorxDentist.

The platform's directory lists the details of over 10,000 doctors and dentists, including their qualifications, past work experience, publications, clinic details, insurance network and whether they were the subject of any Singapore Medical Council (SMC) Disciplinary Tribunal actions.

It also allows users to book medical appointments in half-hour time slots, and offers cost estimates for consultation. Patients can submit their reviews of doctors for publication on the platform, whether or not they have booked an appointment through it.

In a newsletter to its members on Tuesday, the SMA noted that some members had written to DoctorxDentist to request that their particulars be removed as they do not wish to be associated with the website. These members were met with "steadfast refusal".

Tyr Ding, the general manager of DoctorxDentist, told The Business Times that a team of lawyers familiar with medical guidelines and regulatory compliance laws had advised the company to automatically list all doctors on its platform from the SMC public directory. This would make the platform "an unbiased and comprehensive listing for patients", she said.

"In order to make expert health knowledge accessible to all, we need to have a balanced and fair view on how we manage doctors on our site. DoctorxDentist not only gives patients a voice but doctors the opportunity to share their knowledge and celebrate good work through great reviews," she said.

Ms Ding had informed the SMA of the company's stance in an e-mail following the association's newsletter. In response, the SMA said that it believes doctors should have the freedom of choice to associate or disassociate with an organisation.

"If a doctor has written to DxD that he/she wants his/her name removed from the DxD website, then DxD should graciously do so, instead of steadfastly declining to," it wrote in an e-mail sent on Thursday.

DoctorxDentist updated its website on Friday to state that it has requested mediation talks with SMA.

This is not the first time the website has been received complaints. The Ministry of Health told BT that from 2018 to 2019, it received three counts of feedback related to DoctorxDentist.

"The cases were investigated and have since been concluded. DoctorxDentist had been reminded to abide by all relevant regulations including the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act," a spokesperson said.

The Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act prohibits the advertising of any skills or services relating to the treatment of any diseases or medical conditions.

This is to prevent individuals from being misled or induced to seek the advice or services from the advertiser or any person referred to in the advertisement.

BT also understands that a group of doctors from a specialist clinic sent a lawyer's letter to DoctorxDentist on Aug 25, threatening to sue on several grounds if the startup did not remove their details from the platform.

The group of doctors expressed concerns that by listing their profiles, DoctorxDentist misleads the public into thinking that there is a working relationship between them and the reviews site.

BT understands that further concerns were raised regarding the appointment-booking function. Though the doctors did not expressly consent to accepting bookings through the website, the website could have given the impression that personal information is being collected from patients on behalf of doctors to facilitate bookings.

DoctorxDentist had also used photographs and text from the doctors' Web pages without obtaining permission, even though they did not own the copyright to the materials.

Ms Ding said descriptive text and photos were removed from the platform after the company received the legal letter. The appointment-booking function for these doctors was also turned off.

But the doctors' platform listings remain up.

DoctorxDentist, which launched as a blog in 2016, began building its database and network of content contributors with the aim of becoming an independent platform for consumer healthcare education.

According to data platform Handshakes, its sole director and shareholder is an individual called Rose Chen Ah Keow. Chief executive officer Tristan Hahner, a German, was brought on the team for his expertise in creating SEO (search engine optimisation) architecture.

Advisers to the startup include WongPartnership partner Melanie Ho, who is a counsel for SMC and Singapore Dental Council; Vincent Chia, former chief of Gleneagles Hospital; and Tay Kah Seng, the former director of engineering at Quora.

Since its inception, the platform has amassed wide-ranging information on medical practitioners in Singapore.

But most doctors BT spoke to were unaware that they were listed on the platform with an appointment-booking function. They raised concerns about reviews of doctors being published on the website.

Medical practice and the quality of service is defined differently by medical and non-medical people, said Leong Choon Kit, a family physician at Mission Medical Clinic.

"A lot of frills can be added to make the public or patients happy, but are not necessary and add to healthcare costs. Plus, the doctors, instead of raising their bar for clinical quality, might choose to please the patients more than managing and curing the disease," he said.

Dr Leong added that patients could inadvertently expose confidential information about themselves while writing the review.

Gastroenterologist Desmond Wai, who has a rating of 4.8 based on five reviews on the platform, questioned the authenticity of reviews on such websites.

"We don't know whether they're real, or whether they are created. There is no way for us to check. So, therefore, how sure are we that those reviews are genuine?" he said.

Ms Ding said that as a third-party platform, DoctorxDentist does not verify patient reviews and that it is not possible to verify all reviews. She likened it to Glassdoor, a website where former and current employees can post about their experiences at companies.

But when a doctor complains about particular reviews, the company is obliged to take it down, she said. Users need to leave a phone number when writing a review; DoctorxDentist also recently started requiring users to have an active social media account.

Ms Ding said patients are not paid to review doctors. The website also posts videos and webinars that feature doctors, but does not earn anything from those.

In a feature on online news publication Tech in Asia, DoctorxDentist said it earns US$150,000 in monthly recurring revenue. The company works with brands in the healthcare industry and doctors to co-create written educational healthcare content that is optimised for Google search.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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