State medical aid scheme probes ‘Dr Joe’

06 October 2017 - 19:06 By Katharine Child
Hospital bed nurse doctor
Hospital bed nurse doctor
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

The Government Employee Medical Scheme (GEMS) has denied TimesLIVE reports that it allowed communication staff working at public relations firm Martina Nicholson Associates to give medical education under their online advice column titled Dr Joe.

It has also launched an investigation into the claim‚ it said on Friday.

Dr Joe was an online service for members of the medical aid who wanted to discuss health concerns with a doctor.

On Monday 26 September‚ The Times newspaper and TimesLIVE online ran an article quoting former employees of Martina Nicholson Associates‚ who said they answered questions sent to Dr Joe with Google's help and without a doctor's advice. The column is no longer available on the GEMS website.

Almost two weeks after The Times/TimesLIVE article‚ GEMS sent out a response. "GEMS takes this matter very seriously and has instituted an investigation to probe the veracity of these claims."

GEMS principal officer Gunvant Goolab said: “GEMS is very concerned about this allegation and we have instituted an investigation into the issue and will respond as soon as the investigation has been concluded.”

The response also said: "GEMS takes the healthcare needs of our members seriously and will act without fear or favour against any conduct that places the scheme and Industry in disrepute."

Gems denied it used the PR agency to answer questions from members about their health. However‚ articles produced by Martina Nicholson Associates about various health topics and diseases were reused in the Dr Joe replies to concerned medical aid members.

The Times also exposed a handful of Dr Joe answers that doctors confirmed were erroneous‚ suggesting that these answers were not written by medical personnel.

In one case‚ an annual mammogram was suggested for a woman with asymmetric breasts‚ which is not standard medical advice. Mammograms cause radiation and are not usually recommended once a year.

In another answer‚ Dr Joe suggested incorrectly it was almost as easy to fall pregnant at age 39 as it is in one's late 20s.

In another answer‚ a disease description appeared to be copied off the health website‚ WebMD.

Nearly every answer by Dr Joe encouraged the writer to visit their doctor to get specific medical tests or treatment.