Health providers are feuding over the value of online medical services.
The row has been fuelled by New Zealand-based www.doctorglobal.com's offer to provide free health advice for one year to a rural community without a GP.
New Zealand Medical Association chairman Pippa MacKay has branded the offer as a "publicity stunt" to promote Doctor Global's paid-for services, saying there is no real substitute to face-to-face consultations with a GP.
Online advice is "appropriate", adds MacKay, but what is needed is "a properly funded rural health strategy [that] would make this sort of publicity stunt unnecessary".
Tony Molloy, chairman of the New Zealand Rural GP Network, also expresses similar concerns.
However, Doctor Global CEO Dr Tom Mulholland says McKay is "living in the Dark Ages" and online health services are the way of the future.
The doctor-owned and operated Internet medical company has a Virtual Health Care Centre, which it says can supply sound service and expertise, regardless of location, to help "overcome the rural health crisis".
"It's hard to get doctors to rural communities so we can deliver virtual house calls," says Mulholland.
Doctor Global has been providing confidential online consultations for the past year for a fee of $30.
The organisation has 30 GPs and medical specialists working in nine e-clinics nationwide, as well as having staff in Australia, Asia and the UK.
Dr Mulholland believes the consultations will improve outcomes and save unnecessary travel.
"If residents do not have computers in their homes, a nurse can be the contact point between the people and the doctors," he says.
MacKay says her association has "anxieties" about online healthcare as it seems "fraught with potential hazards putting both the patient and doctor at risk".