For many patients, access to teleconsultations with doctors, psychologists and other medical practitioners has been a lifesaver this year. Before the pandemic, the Health Professions Council of SA had banned all telemedicine consults, except for telephonic prescriptions.
Amid growing pressure – and in line with the global trend of virtual consults – the council relented in April, relaxing restrictions during the pandemic only.
Practitioners, the council said, must uphold the Ethical Rules of Conduct for Health Practitioners registered under the Health Professions Act, as these remain applicable.
There is a limit to what is allowed and if medical procedures are required, a physical consultation would have to be conducted beforehand to allow the patient to give informed consent. Obviously. But it seems some grey areas do exist.
When more isn’t more
For 32-year-old Rania (not her real name), an attempt to rectify an aesthetic issue turned into an expensive lesson.
Rania was self-conscious about a scoliosis (or curvature of the spine), so she approached a plastic surgeon for cosmetic surgery. When that procedure failed to rectify the indent in her buttocks, she found the Dr Sandy Medical Spa in Sandton, which had rave reviews on its website and social media. Rania said over a tele consult, and without an examination – not even her weight and measurements taken – Dr Sandy Phiri advised her to have the area “filled” with 18 vials of 10cc filler.
These are not conventional fillers: they are used in body augmentation procedures by those aspiring for Nicki Minaj-style booty, bustier busts, pumped-up calves and other quick fixes. Rania said the doctor assured her she does such procedures “all the time” and even in her case, the only risk was bruising.
“When I asked her, she said ‘what risks’? I was told it’s completely safe and because her clinic is so popular, I needed to pay right away to secure my appointment in time for the December holidays,” Rania explained.
Caveat emptor: buyer beware
“As appointments are on a firstcome, first-serve basis, I felt under pressure to clinch the deal.”
Rania paid R120 000 for the fillers which were on special order from abroad. She never had a confirmed appointment after payment. But as the dust settled in her mind, Rania realised she had rushed into the “deal”. Concerned about what could go wrong, she turned to family and Dr Google, where she found horror stories about biofilms, infections, necrotic veins and the like. She was at heightened risk
of a reaction due to an autoimmune disease and felt there was inadequate disclosure.
“When I asked about my appointment they said they were waiting for me to purchase premedication.”
Within days of paying, Rania wanted to cancel. At first, she said, she was told there are no refunds. Then ignored. After sending a letter of demand, she received vague assurances she would be refunded – but only once another patient had purchased the fillers. Rania said she was sent an invoice for the product before the doctor had seen her: “Why would you ask for upfront payment when there is a possibility the client isn’t suited to the procedure? She hadn’t even seen me – what if I was one of those clients turned away? She already had my money.”
Without a physical consult
Dr Phiri, the founder of the medical spa, said: “I explained to her that it was not a problem – she wanted to find out whether fillers can be put where the implant was placed. I told her I’ve done many – and truly, I’ve done many.”
Dr Phiri said she sent plenty of clients back to their doctors but in this case, she wasn’t concerned for Rania. She denied rushing this client into a decision, saying Rania had an appointment, but “someone had told her it was risky”.
“We don’t work like that in the medical fraternity. There’s no way Dr Sandy would risk her (sic) hard-gotten reputation for R100 000. Then she (Rania) phones and starts threatening.”
She said these fillers are expensive and specially ordered from abroad. Asked where these fillers were sourced from – South America, China or elsewhere – and whether they had SAHPRA approval, as required by law, she revealed they were FDA-approved and came through port health.
In trouble before
In 2017, Dr Phiri’s Medclinic 24/7 was sued by Mediclinic for trademark infringement. The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria granted an order interdicting the Medclinic 24/7 Maternity Home and its directors from infringing on the hospital group’s registered trademarks and logos and using the name Medclinic or any other mark.
The clinic and its directors, Dr Mbongeni Moyo and Sandra Phiri (partners in the spa), were also ordered to remove the Medclinic mark from all of its material. A possible damages claim or a claim for royalties by Mediclinic was postponed. Mediclinic had not responded to queries about the case on Friday. At the time, Mediclinic chief legal officer Clara Findlay said in court papers Medclinic and its directors appeared to be running several clinics in Joburg using a trademark “deceptively similar” to Mediclinic’s trademarks and copied text from Mediclinic’s website to imitate the brand. Outcome
On Friday, Rania said the spa’s sister apologised that the message wasn’t “communicated better”.
Rania said the accounts department had also been in touch, advising the new customer will pay for the filler and then they would refund her “without fail”. “I will give them till the 25th and see. Thank you so very much for everything. You truly are such a godsend. I will definitely keep you updated.”
I’ll be watching.
* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at email@example.com, tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.
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