Rajat Prakash, Managing Partner, Athena Legal and Siddharth Mahajan, Partner, Athena Legal provide detailed insights into the telemedicine guidelines issued by GoI
Amidst the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of India has accorded legal status to Telemedicine in India. The Board of Governors, appointed by the government in supersession of Medical Council of India (Board of Governors) under the sanction of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, published a notification dated March 25, 2020 (Amendment) to amend the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002 (Code of Conduct) in order to regulate Telemedicine in India. The amendment added ‘Consultation by Telemedicine’ to the Regulations, the relevant part of which is:
“3.8.1 Consultation through Telemedicine by the Registered Medical Practitioner under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 shall be permissible in accordance with the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines contained in Appendix 5”
The amendment further states that the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines (Guidelines) will not be applicable to use of digital technology to conduct surgical or invasive procedure remotely.
Definitions relating to telemedicine
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The concept of Telemedicine has been discussed for last few years in India but before the notification of Guidelines it had no legal status. The Guidelines define Telemedicine as:
“ delivery of healthcare services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communications technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of healthcare providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”
Another important concept to understand is that of ‘Telehealth’ which the Guidelines define as
“the delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies.”
Such telemedicine consultation can be provided to any patient via services such as telephone, video, devices connected over LAN, WAN, Internet, mobile or landline phones, chat platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.
Persons qualified to offer telemedicine
Any person who is enrolled in the State Medical Register or Indian Medical Register (RMP) under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 (Act) is qualified to practice telemedicine under the Guidelines.
RMPs who wish to practice telemedicine will have to complete a mandatory online course made available by the BOG within three years of it being notified. Till such time, the principles mentioned in the Guidelines are required to be followed. Ethical norms and standards applicable on in-person medical consultations also apply over telemedicine.
Process of telemedicine consultations
The Guidelines propose the following process which needs to be followed by RMP providing
Start of consultation and consent – The telemedicine consultation is initiated by the patient through voice call, video or text. Thereafter, the RMP may accept to undertake the consultation. Since the patient initiates the telemedicine consultation, the consent is implied.
Identification – RMP should confirm the identity of the patient to his satisfaction by asking for patient’s name, age, address, email ID, phone number or any other identification that may be reasonable.
Quick assessment – Before the telemedicine consultation is provided, a quick assessment of the patient should be done to determine the condition of the patients health. If the condition of the patient requires emergency care, the RMP should advice for first aid or any other immediate relief along with guidance.
Source: Express Healthcare