The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare along with NITI Aayog on Wednesday released guidelines to allow registered medical practitioners for providing telemedicine consultation.
Telemedicine is the process of offering remote diagnosis and treatment of patient using electronic communication platforms.
According to the guidelines, an online programme will be developed and made available in supersession of the Medical Council of India, to get the practitioners familiar with the guidelines and the process and limitations of telemedicine practice. All registered medical practitioners are required to complete a mandatory online course within 3 years of notification of the guidelines to provide consultation through telemedicine, it added.
"The professional judgment of a registered medical practitioner should be the guiding principle for all telemedicine consultation," the document said.
The white paper lists seven elements such as the context, identification of the individuals involved and consent that need to be considered before the start of any telemedicine consultation.
The guidelines come as the country grapples with the rising number of Covid-19 cases forcing people to rely on internet platforms and voice call to consult doctors for non-critical ailments.
"The guidelines seem broadly fine except that they will take months to prepare the course and it will not be useful during this (Covid-19) pandemic," said Sumanth C Raman, a healthcare domain consultant with a leading IT services firm.
A medical doctor, Raman is one of the early adopters of telemedicine in the country. Back in 2000, he had co-founded webhealthcentre.com—a website that offered online consultation services, online storage of medical records and decision support tools.
Last week, the Trump administration relaxed Federal rules concerning telehealth services to open its access to all Medicare users. The move is aimed at allowing senior citizens to communicate without having to travel to clinics and limiting their risk of exposure.
According to a McKinsey Digital India report released last year, telemedicine models possess the technical capability to handle up to half of the in-person outpatient consultations in India. "Telemedicine trials have demonstrated that remote consultations cost about 30 per cent less than equivalent in-person visits." Use of digital technology in healthcare may also save $4 billion to $5 billion by 2025, the report added.
Telemedicine can also play a major role in addressing the shortage of qualified doctors in certain medical fields. According to a Parliamentary reply in November last year, India presently has one doctor for every 1,445 people, much lower than the World Health Organisation's prescribed norm of one doctor for 1,000 people.