In Practice

Sending patients electronic reminders on the need for urgent treatment to prevent life-threatening illnesses: Some lessons to be learned and a cautionary reminder

D J McQuoid-Mason


A patient’s widow recently successfully sued a doctor who had not followed up on unanswered SMS (text) messages sent to her husband warning him that he needed urgent treatment for a life-threatening form of malaria. The messages had gone to her late husband’s previous cellphone number and were never received by him. The doctor raised several false defences and attempted to defend himself without being represented by a lawyer. This article highlights a number of important lessons about the dangers of relying exclusively on electronic messaging, raising spurious defences, and resorting to self-representation in serious malpractice cases. It also makes some suggestions on what should be done to avoid such dangers.

Author's affiliations

D J McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Electronic messaging; SMSs; WhatsApp; Patient follow-up; Failure to check; Ethical considerations; Spurious defences; Self-representation

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(11):845-847. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i11.14113

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-10-31
Date published: 2019-10-31

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