The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued a set of guidelines for telemedicine providers at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has burdened the medical infrastructure.
The guidelines were released by the ministry along with policy think tank NITI Aayog and are meant to be used in conjunction with national clinical standards, protocols, policies and procedures.
Private hospitals have offered video consultation services to patients to ensure that people visit healthcare centres only if critical.
The guidelines, which seek to regulate the space, exclude specifications for hardware and infrastructure. They also leave out the specifics on data management systems and standards on interoperability.
The health ministry’s guidelines do not allow consultations outside the jurisdiction of India or the use of digital technology to conduct surgical or invasive procedures.
Telemedicine is not an alternative to in-person care during emergency cases.
“In case alternative care is not present, tele-consultation might be the only way to provide timely care. In such situations, registered medical practitioners (RMPs) may provide consultation to their best judgement. Telemedicine services should, however, be avoided for emergency care when alternative in-person care is available,” the guidelines state.
The guidelines also recognise the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the space but with certain caveats.
“While new technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, advanced data science-based decision support systems could assist and support an RMP on patient evaluation, diagnosis or management, the final prescription or counselling has to be directly delivered by the RMP,” the guidelines said.
As part of its guidelines for the practice of telemedicine and telehealth, the ministry has issued the following guidelines:
- Technology platforms are responsible for ensuring that consultations are given only by RMPs duly registered with medical councils or respective state medical councils
- The websites or apps will conduct due diligence before onboarding RMPs on their platform and list qualification, registration number and contact details of the practitioner
- In case of non-compliance, the platform should report the same to the board of governors in supersession to Medical Council of India (MCI) for appropriate action
- Artificial intelligence or machine learning based platforms are not allowed to prescribe medicines to patients
- Only RMPs can prescribe medicines in direct communication with the patient
- The platforms are required to ensure grievance and query redressal system for customers
- The board of governors, MCI can blacklist technology platforms found violating norms and bar RMPs from using the same