With all-around digitisation increasingly taking over our everyday lives, the healthcare industry has not remained untouched. Indeed, the delivery of care as also personal consultation and procuring of medicines and other products have taken more of the telemedicine route, as compared to earlier times. This is at least true of cities and towns with an adequate IT infrastructure network as well as a reasonable number of trained healthcare personnel. Relatively softer health conditions, the long physical distance between the caregiver and the patient, the credibility of the health practitioner, follow-up consultations and an evolving regulatory framework are some of the other factors driving the telehealth uptake in the country.
Amid this rapidly-digitising landscape right through the value chain, how are healthcare professionals taking to this new phenomenon? Or, even more importantly, why and when should they be seeking digital solutions for themselves?
Medicine, a high-risk profession
First and foremost, even as medicine is a noble profession, given the highly sensitive nature of this practice, wherein people’s health and lives are involved, it is fraught with as many risks as it is a rewarding profession. Sometimes, despite the purest of intent on the practitioner’s part, due to some miscommunication or gap in communication between the patient and the doctor, a wrong diagnosis and therefore a wrong line of treatment may well ensue therefore jeopardizing patient health and even endangering their life. This makes for an unduly volatile doctor-patient relationship with a possible turn of events that may spiral way beyond the control of either of the parties. At times, even the most experienced doctors following the best practices have found themselves mired in such unpleasant and tricky situations.
Digital records, a legal shield for doctors
Second, particularly, when a patient’s health condition requires an operational procedure entailing the prior obtaining of patient consent, doctors must take recourse to digital solutions. Rather than opting for traditional paper-based consent forms which allow a limited number of Q&As and with not much scope for an interactive doctor-patient session, doctors today should choose digital consent solutions. These solutions not only allow for a more detailed and elaborate conversation between doctors and patients before the latter can take an informed decision. They also make sure that a digital record remains in place for perpetuity, should there be a need for it post-surgery. And, since the record can be in multimedia formats including text, audio, and video with supporting images and graphics, there is greater clarity of communication between the doctor and his patient. Records being in different formats, also serve as robust evidence for later if a need arises.
Inadequacy of existing laws
Third, in light of ever-rising incidences of violence against doctors by relatives of patients in the country today, digital consent solutions must become the first ‘port of call’ for doctors. According to a study, more than 75 per cent of doctors in the country have faced some form of violence, with more than 68 per cent of incidents involving violence by relatives of patients. And this could happen to anyone. And, in such an eventuality, when in due course legal and administrative procedures would also follow, these digital records would serve as a robust shield for health professionals who may have been inadvertently caught up in an undesirable legal situation. The doctors would also do well to remember that the existing laws, such as the Protection of Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, although adopted by several states, have not been implemented on the ground. The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment Bill) 2020 passed by the Parliament in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, as the name suggests, is specific to epidemics only and does not cater to all medico-legal situations.
Digital solutions lead to better patient outcomes
Fourth, the adoption of digital solutions also enables doctors in optimising patient outcomes and thereby achieving better patient management. While digital scheduling of appointments and follow-ups leads to better time management, the increased usage of EHRs and EMRs makes sure that a historic and holistic view of patient health can be taken. At the same time, since digital records can be viewed repeatedly anytime and on the go, not only is there more accuracy in reading and interpretation of diagnostics and other patient data with less likelihood of errors. It also becomes very convenient from the doctor’s point of view. In other words, digital solutions also lead to improved documentation and therefore more efficient information and data management. On an everyday practical note from the patient’s standpoint, employing e-prescriptions can do away with the need for having to read a doctor’s famously illegible handwriting in paper-based prescriptions.
Digital solutions, a platform for knowledge sharing
Fifth, currently, when advancements in health and medicine emerge regularly, digital solutions would go a long way in helping doctors to share the latest information and treatment techniques with one another. This knowledge sharing could also extend to the exchanging of critical information on a line of treatment such as dosages, indications, contraindications, pharmacology, etc.
Therefore, embracing digital solutions by healthcare professionals secures the interests of both doctors and patient communities. In addition to the clearly evident medico-legal protection that doctors get, the resultant improvement in patient management also enhances their professional credibility in the eyes of the larger patient community. Today, when patients are increasingly turning digital-savvy, doctors must not remain behind.
Views expressed by Dr. Nitendra Sesodia, Senior Director, Medical Communication & Corporate Sales, Thieme