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The French Order of Physicians has called for tighter rules to avoid “confusion” between health professionals and alternative medicine practitioners, after the online medical appointment platform Doctolib was pushed to delete listings of 17 naturopaths.
The Doctolib platform has become France’s preferred method of booking medical appointments with regulated health professionals such as doctors, midwives and dentists, but also with holders of state-recognised diplomas such as psychologists and osteopaths.
Around 3 percent of practitioners listed on Doctolib are involved in alternative medicine such as sophrology, hypnotherapy and naturopathy. They operate legally but are unregulated.
Launched in 2013, Doctolib gained added credibility during the Covid crisis when it became a key tool in rolling out the vaccination campaign.
But following criticism that the platform was promoting practices that could amount to quackery and could be dangerous, the Order of Physicians, a regulatory body whose role is to enforce medical ethics, called out Doctolib.
In a statement on Tuesday, it said Doctolib should “strengthen its ethical rules for registering on its platform”.
“Doctolib cannot allow confusion to arise between health professionals and people who are not part of the medical profession,” it said.
L’Ordre des médecins appelle @doctolib à renforcer ses règles éthiques d’inscription sur sa plateforme afin de garantir la sécurité et la qualité des soins pour les patients.
L’Ordre des médecins se tient prêt à participer à cette indispensable réflexion. pic.twitter.com/8ILNiFic83
Doctolib estimates appointments with such practitioners represent just 0.3 percent of the total number made on its platform.
Criticism has focused on Irène Grosjean and her followers. A 92-year-old naturopath, Grosjean refers to the coronavirus as “connard ô virus” since she deems it was “invented by idiots”.
Among her “natural” remedies, she recommends parents bring down fever in newborns by rubbing their sexual organs with ice cold water.
“In the beginning [the baby] will resist,” she said in an interview relayed by L’Extracteur on Twitter.
« Au début il ne sera pas d’accord… » La naturopathe Irène Grosjean recommande aux parents d’agresser sexuellement leurs bébés pour faire baisser leur fièvre. Rappelons qu’elle forme encore à ses abominables méthodes des dizaines de naturopathes tous les ans. 1/7 ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Wt6PVAbczG
L’Extracteur – a collective that combats what it sees as medical pseudoscience – said Grosjean’s recommendations amounted to child sex abuse. It also highlighted that she continued to offer courses relaying her methods.
In a series of tweets, Tristan Mendès-France, a lecturer in digital media and member of Conspiracy Watch, described Grosjean as “a danger to public health”.
He also found that Doctolib listed a practitioner of urinotherapy, which consists of drinking your own urine to maintain health or as treatment.
Trouvé sur le site d’un naturopathe qui fait la promo de l’urinothérapie et qui vend ses services sur doctolib.
(NB : ça n’est pas Tal Schaller)https://t.co/Ud9QgDXDvb pic.twitter.com/jZjkStvIty
The CEO of Doctolib, Stanislas Niox-Chateau, initially defended his group’s stance on including practitioners of alternative medicine on their platform.
“The demand is there, it is not up to us to say whether these activities are effective or useful,” he told Le Parisien daily on Monday.
“They are legal, so we have no reason to prevent practitioners from being registered on our site.”
Doctolib underlined that it informs users when a practitioner exercises a non-regulated profession.
But following revelations by L’Extracteur on Twitter that 17 practitioners listed on the app had been trained by Grosjean and were advocating self-healing methods, the group suspended those accounts.
Doctolib also promised to undertake “in-depth consultations” with the Order of Physicians, health syndicates and authorities, civil society and Miviludes – a public funded body that monitors sects in France.
The Order of Physicians has also called for discussions between Doctolib, health authorities and professional associations “to better define the framework in which health professionals can be listed on the platform”.
Meanwhile the head of the main physicians union (CSMF), Franck Devulder, called on the state “to clarify the practices of some professionals which can amount to quackery” and said the health minister should “regulate access to alternative medicines and ban all advertising”.
According to Mendès France, Doctolib’s involvement in the Covid vaccination campaign has given it “an institutional veneer” and it therefore carries more responsibility than a regular service provider.
“Naturopaths and the like are not a problem as such,” he said. “The problem is the risk of drifting; that some will use the site’s aura to give them credibility among the public. In opening its space, Doctolib risks giving opportunities to quacks.”
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