The much-awaited Telemedicine Practice Guidelines, released by the government this past week, comes at a time when India is battling its worst public health emergency and people started seeing the potential of telemedicine.

The guidelines will help towards standardising care and inspiring confidence among doctors and healthcare providers, who are not inclined to use technology to reach out to patients in a major way.

“The guidelines provided norms and protocols relating to doctor-patient relationship; issues of liability and negligence; evaluation, management and treatment; informed consent; continuity of care; referrals for emergency services; medical records; privacy and security of the patient records and exchange of information; prescribing; and reimbursement; health education and counselling,” the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines said.

For instance, earlier there was no clarity on informed consent. As per the guidelines if a patient initiates the telemedicine consultation, then the consent is implied.

Telemedicine isn’t just confined to a phone call but covers a gamut of applications such as video, chat platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, among others, or Mobile App or internet-based digital

platforms like Skype, email and fax.

The telemedicine guidelines took years, but finally, came at the most opportune time when people are in COVID-19 lockdown, and the only way to get a follow-up or medical advice is to call family doctor or use the online doctor consultation apps.

Opportune time

We have also seen an explosion of online self-assessment apps to check for symptoms of COVID-19. Moneycontrol reported how online doctor platforms are seeing a surge of patient queries.

This is serving in two ways. One it is helping doctors from directly getting exposed to a possible infection of COVID-19, and enable them to treat patients and keep their livelihoods intact. Most importantly telemedicine is helping reduce the spread of the virus by reducing footfalls at clinics and hospitals. Based on symptoms, doctors can find which patient needs hospitalisation – thereby reducing people walking into hospitals.

Telemedicine will also be beneficial as it saves commute cost, especially of rural patients.

There is a higher likelihood of maintenance of records and documentation, hence, it minimalises the likelihood of missing out advice from the doctor other health care staff.

Conversely, the doctor has an exact document of the advice provided via tele-consultation. Written documentation increases the legal protection of both parties. Telemedicine provides patient’s safety, as well as health workers safety especially in situations where there is a risk of contagious infections.

Dozens of tech start-ups are already offering doctor consultations on digital platforms but each of them have their own protocols.

“Lack of clear state guidelines on telemedicine has often been recognized as a hindrance in its growth,” said Dr Shankar Narang, COO, Paras Healthcare.

“We strongly believe that this time in history will serve to institutionalize and mainstream the role of telemedicine in healthcare,” Narang added.

“Clarity in regulations around telemedicine & digital healthcare was the need of the hour, especially, in the light of Covid-19,” said Shashank ND, Co-Founder & CEO, Practo.

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