Since December, people suffering from a cold in northern Germany no longer need to visit the doctor to obtain a sick note that will secure them recovery time away from work. Instead they can use Hamburg startup AU-Schein which connects them with a doctor via messaging service WhatsApp.
The startup took advantage of a law passed last year that loosened the ban on doctors assessing patients without actually being in the same room as them.
The relaxation of the so-called Fernbehandlungsverbot (ban on remote treatment) was meant to provide a reliable alternative to “doctor Google” for people who would rather research their symptoms online than go to a doctor.
But AU-Schein believes that the law has other applications.
People who have picked up a cold can visit the company’s website and fill out an online form with questions about their symptoms such as whether they feel nauseous. If their symptoms match those common to a cold, they are connected with a doctor via the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp. If the doctor is satisfied that the person is sick, they will issue a sick note that allows the patient to take paid leave from work.
AU-Schein charges €9 for every sick note issued.
Not as great as it seems?
While the idea might sound great to invalids who don’t feel up to a visit to their local GP, doctors’ associations have poured cold water on the idea.
The Medical Association of Schleswig Holstein (SH) said that the service was an attempt to make money on people’s desire to pull sickies.
“The service turns the desire to be let off work into its central idea and hopes to generate profit through it,” the SH medical association said.
“Even if this business model contains a grain of vision for the future, the current implementation is legally questionable. We will examine the case further but at present can only encourage people not to use it,” the statement concluded.
Pedram Emami, head of the Medical Association in Hamburg told broadcaster NDR that he found it “problematic” that doctors working for AU-Schein were prepared to hand out a sick note without personally seeing a patient first.
Both medical associations warned that the legal basis for the business was unclear and that employers might be within their rights to reject the sick notes. They also caution that the service could be in breach of data protection law.
But the startup has assured people that it has the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that it is both safe from abuse and secure.
Founder Can Ansay points out that the service is only available for the common cold and not for more serious illnesses, thus saving time for both patients and doctors. The service can also only be used twice a year by a single person.
Ansay claims that the fact that WhatsApp is fully encrypted means that the service conforms with data protection laws.