These days, it really is difficult to say with certainty whether or not you’re being spied on. Surveillance technology has become so affordable that we’re at a point where someone could monitor much of your life for just a few hundred dollars if they really knew what they were doing. Such was recently the case in South Africa, where it turned out that 19 medical aids were spying on doctors and their patients with hidden cameras cleverly concealed in consulting rooms – this according to papers that were filed with the Pretoria High Court.
South African Medical Surveillance: The Story So Far
According to a report that first appeared in the regional newspaper The Sunday Times, medical aids in South Africa began allegedly holding back payments to certain doctors due to unproven instances of misconduct. When those initial claims were investigated, it was revealed that the misconduct was unproven for a reason – evidence was illegally collected from hidden cameras that were installed into consulting rooms without the knowledge of the affected doctors.
The National Healthcare Professionals Association of South Africa, which was formed in 2016, has 320 members located throughout the area. A stunning 65 of them were a part of the court application, pointing to just how severe this problem really is.
According to the National Healthcare Professionals Association, this level of surveillance is not only unlawful – it actively infringes on both the doctor/patient relationship AND the constitutional right to privacy that doctors enjoy.
During these instances of surveillance, many “fake patients” would schedule meetings with doctors specifically for the purposes of being monitored. One of them included a woman with a story intended to yield the most illicit emotional response possible – a woman who brought in a young child who was desperately ill, or who had been raped.
The medical aids have indicated that they will vigorously oppose this claim, and they totally deny any wrongdoing. According to them, they were attempting to combat a rising fraud issue. They say that fraud claims and false medical cases were being paid out to the tune of millions of dollars each year – a number that was increasing all the time.
Discovery Health, however, indicated that only a small percentage of the 20,000 medical health professionals in South Africa were proven to have been engaged in fraud and billing abuse. More than that, they said that THEY have a responsibility to deal with the issue, not the medical aids themselves.
It’s important to note that Discovery Health is actually named in the lawsuit, which states that they were actively involved in the scheme that sent spies and other private investigators with video cameras and other surveillance recording equipment into private consultation rooms without any type of consent on behalf of those being monitored. To their credit, Discovery Health officials said that all investigations into the matter will be conducted with only the highest possible standards. Whether or not that is actually true remains to be seen.
This is not the first time that surveillance and medical fraud have been hot button topics in South Africa. Recently, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi made an announcement indicating that the country’s NHI policy is “back on track,” which will see all South Africans contributing to a national insurance program at some point in the near future.
Whether you’re talking about South Africa or the United States, people often make the mistake of assuming that certain areas are sacred. When you walk into a doctor’s office for a consultation, you never assume that you’re being monitored – yet this claim goes a long way toward proving that we can never really be too sure. While it’s true that in this case the doctors were the ones being spied on and not the patients, how difficult would it truly be to reverse that situation? This should act as an important lesson to all of us – if you ever enter a scenario where you think someone might be watching you, the chances are high that you might be right.