At a time when Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc, infecting over 600 people, the Union Health Ministry has released telemedicine guidelines to bolster healthcare delivery practices in remote areas. The guidelines have been released by a board vested with the powers of the Medical Council of India—BoG in associate with Niti Aayog.
Currently, there were no clear guidelines for medical practitioners on how to facilitate medical care to remote patients, leveraging information technology.There was an ambiguity on leveraging telemedicine facility as doctors could entangle themselves in legal hassles.
The Board of Governors (BoG) issued guidelines, outlining that telemedicine provides safety of patients, as well as health workers safety especially in situations where there is risk of contagious infections and it can be conducted without exposing staff to viruses or infections in the times of such outbreaks.
“Disasters and pandemics pose unique challenges to providing healthcare. Though telemedicine will not solve them all, it is well suited for scenarios in which medical practitioners can evaluate and manage patients.
“Telemedicine practice can prevent the transmission of infectious diseases reducing the risks to both health care workers and patients. Unnecessary and avoidable exposure of the people involved in the delivery of healthcare can to be avoided using telemedicine and patients can be screened remotely,” it said
“It can provide rapid access to medical practitioners who may not be immediately available in person. In addition, it makes available extra working hands to provide physical care at the respective health institutions. Thus, health systems that are invested in telemedicine are well positioned to ensure that patients with COVID-19 kind of issues receive the care they need,” it said.
The Telemedicine Practice Guidelines stated that in India, providing in-person healthcare is challenging, particularly given the large geographical distances and limited resources.
One of the major advantages of telemedicine can be for saving of cost and effort especially of rural patients, as they need not travel long distances for obtaining consultation and treatment, the BoG said. In this type of scenario, telemedicine can provide an optimal solution for not just providing timely and faster access. It would also reduce financial costs associated with travel. It also reduces the inconvenience/impact to family and caregivers and social factors, the guidelines said.
How experts have responded to the development:
Dr Shankar Narang, COO, Paras Healthcare
We are happy that the government has shown alacrity in recognizing the role that telemedicine can play in a situation like this. Lack of clear state guidelines on telemedicine has often been recognized as a hindrance in its growth. Lack of such guidelines do not inspire confidence among doctors and healthcare providers and prevent them from using technology to reach out to patients in a major way. With the issuance of the guidelines we now clearly know the government’s statutory stance on the use of telemedicine and a lot of doubts and issues have been cleared. We strongly believe that this time in history will serve to institutionalize and mainstream the role of telemedicine in healthcare. We are already witnessing a surge in the use of telemedicine facilities across the world to deal with the pandemic at hand. Increasing number of people are seeking medical help through advanced technological means such as video consultations or voice chat. A number of people under self-quarantine are seeking medical advice through virtual consultations to better monitor and manage their condition. Telemedicine has also helped reduce the spread of the virus by reducing hospital footfalls.
Shashank ND, Co-Founder & CEO, Practo
This is a monumental step for Digital Health in India and has the power to help India’s healthcare take a big leap forward. Access to quality healthcare has just been made simpler, reachable to masses. Clarity in regulations around telemedicine & digital healthcare was the need of the hour, especially, in the light of Covid-19. MOH & Niti Aayog’s swift action in this regard is praiseworthy. We would like to congratulate the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Niti Aayog and our PM Modi, who’s been a huge advocate of digital technology. The guidelines call out the specifics clearly, leaving little room for speculation. This is bold, positive and a huge leap forward. It’s a big win for the country and all its citizens.
Rashie Jain, CEO and Co-founder, Onco.com
This is a challenging time for the whole world, the economies and most particularly, those who are most vulnerable in societies such as our elderly and patients with underlying medical conditions, including cancer. At Onco.com, we are fortunate to be part of a sector that citizens are at present the most in need of – healthcare. Being in health-tech gives us the advantage to be remotely available for anyone seeking support, from the safety of their homes. Additionally, we have also ensured the safety and wellbeing of our employees and their families by having made a unanimous decision at an early stage to declare a work from home option for all. Lastly, I strongly believe that every adverse situation brings with it an opportunity to grow. When all this is over, I am confident many startups would have emerged stronger with a prioritisation of what is important for their customers, and better processes in place to work together.