Medical News – The effect of the Consumer Protection Act on Medical Professionals

According to a Business LIVE report dated 01 May 2012, a 2011 study by the Professional Provident Society (PPS) shows that professionals such as doctors, pharmacists and dentists are experiencing higher levels of confidence that the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) would add value to their clients, suggesting that medical professionals are beginning to accept the value of the legislation.

Dr Dominique Stott, an executive at PPS, is quoted as saying that the CPA is applicable to almost all services provided within South Africa, and since medical practitioners and hospital clinics provide medical services to the public, their services will also be impacted by the CPA.

Dr Stott states that if any member of the public is unhappy with the provision of medical services, they can approach the consumer commission and lodge a complaint against either a doctor or a hospital.

According to Dr Stott medical professionals will now have to ensure that communication documents are in plain English, and in language that consumers can understand. In addition, practitioners have to ensure that their contracts with the public do not contain terms that are unreasonable or unjust, and further have to ensure that their services are not directly marketed to consumers who have previously registered pre-emptive blocks for such marketing.

Dr Stott added that no negative option marketing will be allowed, so consumers cannot be sent messages suggesting that if a consumer does not opt out, they will automatically be opted in.

Dr Stott states that “all these factors mean service providers will now need to tread carefully when dealing with consumers, to avoid being brought in front of the commission. Consumers also now have a well-defined process that they can follow when their rights have been tampered with.”

However, Dr Stott believes that there are also benefits for the medical profession in that “often doctors are faced with a situation where patients book appointments and either cancel them at the last minute or simply don’t turn up. In these cases, doctors will still be entitled to levy a cancellation charge, though this must be reasonable and in line with general practice in the industry”.

To ensure compliance, Dr Stott advises that medical professionals should familiarise themselves with the Act and the workings of the National Consumer Commission.