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Phone health advice comes under scrutiny

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The status of health advice provided by telephone help lines has come under scrutiny at a Western Australian coronial inquest.

In a case that could have ramifications for how telephone health advice services operate, a coroner inquiring into the death of a six-month-old baby has raised questions about the ethical obligations and standards of nurses providing advice.

According to a report in the West Australian, the inquest into the May 2011 death of Allegra Scafidas was told her mother called the HealthDirect service for advice after the infant fell ill.

The inquest was told that a HealthDirect nurse advised the mother her child was likely to have a “tummy bug”.

Eleven hours later Allegra was rushed to Princess Margaret Hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and place din an induced coma, but died six days later.

Much of the focus of the inquest has been on the status of advice provided by the nurse to Allegra’s mother.

Coroner Dominic Mulligan questioned Dr Georgia Karabatsos from Medibank Health Solutions about the possibility that Allegra’s mother interpreted the nurse’s assessment as a diagnosis, discouraging her from seeking further advice unless her daughter’s conditions deteriorated.

According to the West Australian, Dr Karabatsos admitted to the inquest that she “could see” how Allegra’s mother may have thought the advice provided by the HealthDirect nurse was a diagnosis.

“I can see objectively how it sounds like a diagnosis,” she said.

Mr Mulligan indicated that the ethical standards and obligations set by Medibank Health Solutions regarding the conduct of HealthDirect nurses may be the subject of an adverse coronial finding.

Adrian Rollins