NEW DELHI :
Any registered medical practitioner can treat Covid-19 patients remotely or by using telemedicine tools, the Union health ministry said on Thursday. The long-pending guidelines on telemedicine finally saw the light of day, in the wake of the unprecedented health crisis facing the country.
The guidelines proposed 10 years ago were finally sanctioned by the Centre to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak.
Considering distance is a critical factor in delivering healthcare services during the ongoing crisis, doctors will now be allowed to use information and communication technologies for exchange of valid information for diagnosis and treatment of ailments.
Globally, telemedicine has emerged as a front-line weapon against the Covid-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and the National Health Service in the UK have recommended its use for identifying high-risk patients and for treating other illnesses during the outbreak.
“Emergency situations can also be an opportunity. The telemedicine guidelines would be invaluable in counselling and triaging patients in these trying times. There were several legal issues related to telemedicine, including medical licences, which were cleared. We were also getting demands from the digital health industry to release the guidelines. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the process got expedited, which would have otherwise taken longer," said Alok Kumar, adviser (health) at NITI Aayog.
According to the government think tank, apart from providing rapid access to medical practitioners, telemedicine will allow more people to provide physical care at the respective health institutions. “Telemedicine practice can prevent the transmission of infectious diseases, reducing the risks to both healthcare workers and patients," the guidelines said, adding that unnecessary exposure of people involved in the delivery of healthcare can be avoided using telemedicine, as patients can be screened remotely.
Thus, health systems that are invested in telemedicine are well-positioned to ensure patients with Covid-19 receive the care they need, the guidelines said.
The government said disasters and pandemics pose unique challenges for health workers. “Though telemedicine will not solve them all, it is well suited for scenarios in which medical practitioners can evaluate and manage patients. A telemedicine visit can be conducted without exposing staff to viruses/infections in the times of such outbreaks," it added.
“Clarity in regulations around telemedicine and digital healthcare was the need of the hour, especially in the light of Covid-19. The guidelines call out the specifics clearly, leaving little room for speculation," said Shashank N.D., co-founder and CEO of Practo, an online digital platform.