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TELEMEDICINE FACILITY AMID COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Author: Gaurav Shankar |

Article by Business Law Chamber

Owing to coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the traditional healthcare systems in India are constantly being questioned. Physical examination and consultation with a doctor is challenging as stringent restrictions are implemented on the movement of people around the country. In India, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a swift shift from the use of traditional healthcare systems to the modern technology of virtually visiting the doctor.

On March 25, 2020, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare made a much-needed move by issuing the ‘Telemedicine Practice Guidelines’ (Guidelines). These Guidelines define telemedicine as “the delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”

Further, the Indian Medical Council in April, 2020 issued an FAQ to provide clarity on the queries pertaining to the Guidelines that may arise from both a patient and a medical practitioner.

The key highlights of the Guidelines are –

  • A Registered Medical Practitioner (RMP) or a doctor, who is enrolled in the State Medical Register or the Indian Medical Register under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, is entitled to provide telemedicine consultation to patients from any part of India.
  • The RMPs using telemedicine shall uphold the same professional and ethical norms and standards as applicable to traditional in-person care.
  • The consultation may involve communication between a patient and RMP, caregiver and RMP, health worker and RMP, and/or RMP and another RMP.
  • The RMPs shall exercise their professional judgment to decide whether a telemedicine consultation is appropriate, or an in-person consultation may be required in the interest of the patient.
  • Telemedicine consultation shall not be anonymous i.e. both patient and the RMP need to know each other’s identity. An RMP shall verify and confirm patient’s identity by name, age, address, email address, phone number, registered identification number or any other identification as may be deemed to be appropriate. The RMP shall also ensure that there is a mechanism for a patient to verify the credentials and contact details of the RMP. For the purpose of issuing a prescription, the RMP shall explicitly ask the age of the patient.
  • The channels of communication that may be used for telemedicine shall be video, audio and/or text based.
  • A patient’s consent shall be necessary for any telemedicine consultation. The consent may be implied or explicit. It shall be termed as implied if the consultation is initiated by the patient and explicit when it is initiated by the health worker, RMP or a caregiver.
  • RMPs shall make all efforts to gather sufficient medical information about the patient’s condition before making any professional judgment.
  • Based on the telemedicine consultation, the RMP may provide the patient –
    • health education which may be related to diet, physical activity, cessation of smoking, contagious infections, etc.
    •  counseling which may include food restrictions, do’s and don’ts for a patient on anticancer drugs, proper use of a hearing aid, home physiotherapy, etc., to mitigate the underlying condition; and/or
    • prescribe medicines as per the Guidelines.
  • The RMP shall only use those platforms for telemedicine consultation which follow protocols and have strict quality standards, the RMP shall also keep a record of all the telemedicine consultations.
  • The RMP is required to keep all the consultations and the patient information confidential.

The Guidelines are certainly a way-forward to an enhanced healthcare system in the country. These are issued with an aim to prevent the patients and the doctors from transmission of Covid19 and make remote consultations handy, however, in the long run, this may boost the Indian healthcare sector.