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DoctorxDentist's headache grows as MOH, medical bodies lean on platform

DoctorxDentist's headache grows as MOH, medical bodies lean on platform

Source: Business Times
Article Date: 20 Nov 2020
Author: Olivia Poh & Claudia Chong

MOH and SMC issue corrections to statements on startup's website; Academy of Medicine sends letter voicing strong disapproval.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) have stepped in to correct statements made by review platform DoctorxDentist in an ongoing dispute between the startup and over a thousand members in the medical community.

The Academy of Medicine, Singapore (AMS) has sent a letter to DoctorxDentist to voice its strong disapproval of the startup's practices, The Business Times has learnt.

In a recent clarification note on MOH's website, it came to light that MOH had neither endorsed nor approved the online platform, despite statements on DoctorxDentist's website that might have given the impression that MOH had.

The startup is locked in a conflict with the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) for refusing to take down listings of doctors and dentists from its platform despite repeated requests to do so. Since Nov 3, SMA has been collating a list of medical practitioners who do not want to be associated with the platform. It is considering making the list, now comprising over 1,000 doctors, publicly accessible.

MOH took issue with DoctorxDentist's blog post on Nov 4, which stated that the company had made the decision to include all doctors on its platform after consulting MOH compliance officers in 2018.

On its webpage containing information about members of its advisory board, DoctorxDentist had said WongPartnership partner Melanie Ho acts as counsel for the SMC.

MOH's clarification note showed that Ms Ho is not SMC's legal counsel, but is on the panel of lawyers who bid for SMC's and the Singapore Dental Council's (SDC) disciplinary cases. She may be retained from time to time on a specific case, but is not currently retained by the SMC or SDC for any case.

Tyr Ding, general manager of DoctorxDentist, told BT that members of its advisory board did not advise the company on any operational decisions.

The startup has increasingly drawn ire from the medical community over the past month. A group of doctors from a specialist clinic had threatened to sue the company, while several doctors spoke out against the platform's use of unverified reviews and unauthorised appointment bookings, BT reported.

The AMS on Tuesday told its members that it has sent a letter to DoctorxDentist to remove the particulars of all its members, including their profile, details of their qualifications, practice and disciplinary record with the SMC.

AMS is the largest specialist organisation in Singapore, with over 3,700 practising members, according to its website.

DoctorxDentist's directory lists the details of over 10,000 doctors and dentists. These details were taken from the SMC's online directory and doctors' personal or company websites despite explicit direction from the SMC that data from the directory was "not to be reproduced" without written consent, said AMS in a strongly worded email seen by BT.

Gerald Soo, a healthcare lawyer who has worked with startups, told BT that the information DoctorxDentist obtained from the SMC website might not be protected within the scope of copyright laws.

"I would hesitate to say that everything that you copy or extract from the SMC website is necessarily restricted unless you make the argument that it's a contract," he said.

However, letting users book appointments through the platform could be problematic as it could give users the impression that doctors are affiliated with the platform, he added.

Mr Soo acknowledged that the healthcare industry could do with more transparency so that consumers can make more informed decisions. The issue is that unvetted reviews can be contentious.

There are different aspects to a review - from the way a doctor interacts to the effectiveness of their treatment - and even these might not fully capture the extent and complexity of a doctor's medical ability, said Mr Soo. Each patient case could also vary to a large extent.

"(DoctorxDentist) needs to realise that it sits in a precarious position where it needs to be regulated in some way. The question is how," he said.

After some back and forth with SMA, DoctorxDentist on Nov 7 said it will delist the doctors who have requested to be taken down from the platform while it works towards an amicable resolution with SMA.

But after a closed-door meeting with representatives from SMA, SMC and MOH, Ms Ding on Sunday told BT that the company "has made a determined decision not to delist any private doctors" from its platform.

"This decision is ours alone, and was made on a sound legal basis. As a company, we are unable to compromise the quality of our patients' healthcare journey just because we are told to drop it. This would be in direct contradiction to our belief that healthcare access should be transparent and made available for all," she told BT then. DoctorxDentist did not comment by press time on its next move, following MOH's clarification.

SMA, in an update to members after the closed-door meeting, said it will publish the list of doctors who do not wish to be associated with DoctorxDentist in due course, if necessary.

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


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