The 12th International Conference of Telemedicine Society of India was held in Bangalore on November 10, 11 and 12. This was the first time, Telemedicon was held in association with ATA (American Telemedicine Association). And, we (Neurosynaptic Communications) were part of the organizing team.
This year, the conference brought a deeper perspective on the practices and possibilities of digital health across the globe. But, amidst all the discussions, what I really appreciated and learned from was the increased focus on legal aspect of telemedicine in our country. The legal panel was extremely educational and informative. Almost everybody appreciated that because of the clarity they got on how telemedicine can actually be implemented; vis-à-vis the regulations in the country today. Dr. Joga Rao, who is on our advisory board, was part of the Legal Panel.
ISRO chairman Dr. Kiran Kumar released a white-paper on Legal Aspects of Telemedicine prepared by Nishith Desai Associates at the Conference Inaugural function. This is a very crucial document highlighting Legal, Regulatory and Tax Overview of telemedicine in India and foreign jurisdiction.
Now, telemedicine has many challenges in our country, especially when it comes to inculcation of this phenomenon in our regular healthcare dynamics. One of the biggest challenges is the legal aspect of it.
This year, the Legal Panel brought forth some excellent topics on the table. They discussed about regulations on telemedicine that are non-existent in India. This gap is primarily attributed to – lack of awareness in the population, and more importantly, lack of proactive behavior from governing bodies such as the MCI or state councils. Government has recognized that the only way to reach healthcare to the remote areas is through technology. This realization has also resulted in guidelines being worked upon and published for public review, for various aspects of healthcare delivery, be it on Medical Devices or on Electronic Medical Records or any other regulatory requirements.
However, lack of regulations is not the only concern but also the means of implementing them once they are available. E.g. there are very clear laws around sale of counterfeit medicines, but still a large percentage of drugs sold in the market, especially in the rural areas are spurious. When regulations for telemedicine are introduced, they possibly need to start from definition of appropriate technologies for telemedicine practice. Rather than being restrictive to a certain set of technologies and processes, the regulations should be more accommodative. They should allow the technologies and processes to evolve, as this is a new paradigm for healthcare delivery.
The telemedicine practice in the country needs clarifications on responsibility and onus on care and safety.
There are some important legal points that must be addressed when using Telemedicine, like contracts, which clearly state the onus of burden of proof in case of an untoward incident. Also, MOU’s with the platform providers are a very crucial aspect. Lastly, indemnification of both hospitals and doctors are needed to make them more amenable to using Telemedicine as a means of healthcare delivery.
There is a lot of grey area around telemedicine in India. However, the future of telemedicine looks promising and the industry is poised for growth with governmental focus on quality and affordable healthcare for everyone and numerous other private initiatives. The need of the hour is to accelerate these initiatives, because the opportunity provided by telemedicine is too significant to ignore.