The Internet is now commonplace in India and Healthcare is set to benefit greatly by using internet for our huge and populous country. Telemedicine is one immediate aspect of the web which 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: 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.
But a lot of such Digital Medicine initiatives in India are held up by legal fears. Many of us doctors have no idea of where the law stands in regards to providing health consultations via the internet. For understanding of medico legal aspects of digital medicine, 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 which apply on real life encounters can be transposed on virtual consults. 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 and are allowed to provide medical consultation, prescriptions and treatment. This seems to rule out possibility of foreign doctors providing any web based consultation to Indian patients directly without involving any Indian registered practitioner.
2) Prescriptions created via electronic health records which are digitally signed are acceptable. Most all electronic medical records software provide the secure digital signature ability. There also seems to be no problem with hand written and signed prescriptions on paper which are 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 to be identified as the originator of the prescription.
Would love to have comments from experts on this.