Three legal tips for practicing telemedicine in India

Global-Network-The-InternetThe Internet is now commonplace in India, and healthcare is set to benefit greatly by using the Internet for our huge and populous country. Telemedicine is one immediate aspect of the web that is set to take off because of the many benefits it provides in the Indian scenario. A lot of deaths in India are because of treatable diseases like TB, diarrhea, and malaria. The doctor to patient ratio at 0.5 per 1000 is way below the desired average of at least 3.0 to 3.5 per thousand. A lot of patients just don’t get to see a doctor. A lot of doctors want to reach out to new populations. Universal health coverage will be doable much faster if we can induce Indian physicians to adopt telemedicine.

However, a lot of such digital medicine initiatives in India are held up by legal fears. Many of us doctors have no idea where the law stands in regards to providing health consultations via the Internet. In order to understand the medico- legal aspects of digital medicine[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()], one needs to take a number of acts and regulations under consideration.

  1. The Information Technology Act 2000
  2. Drugs and Cosmetics Act
  3. Indian Medical Council Act
  4. Code of Ethics Regulations 2002

In essence, all regulations that apply in real-life encounters can be transposed on virtual consultations. Following are the three takeaways in non-legalese for Indian doctors looking to utilize the Internet to better the quality and reach of care they provide:

  1. Only medical practitioners registered in India are allowed to provide medical consultation, prescriptions and treatment . This seems to rule out the possibility of foreign doctors directly providing any web-based consultation to Indian patients without involving any Indian-registered practitioner.
  2. Prescriptions created via electronic health records that are digitally signed are acceptable. Almost all electronic medical records software provides the secure digital signature ability. There also seems to be no problem with handwritten and signed prescriptions on paper scanned for digital use and archived for future reference.
  3. Automated Prescriptions using algorithms are tenable as long as the doctor takes full responsibility for the prescription and accepts being identified as the originator of the prescription.

Would love to have comments from experts on this.

Neelesh Bhandari, MD Dr. Bhandari is a physician entrepreneur focused on communication technology in medicine and healthcare. He is based in the New Delhi area of India and serves as Chief Consulting Officer of Digital MedCom Solutions. Dr. Bhandari also runs the blog Digital Medicine, which is focused on “Ensuring optimum use of technology in medicine.”

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