Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Telemedicine/Telehealth as a tool to fight COVID-19

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Telemedicine/Telehealth

Mains level : Telemedicine and its effectiveness

 

The Medical Council of India and the NITI Aayog have developed new guidelines released on March 25, 2020 for registered medical practitioners to deliver consultations to patients via telemedicine.

Telemedicine

  • Telemedicine involves the use of telecom and virtual technology to deliver health care outside of traditional health-care facilities.
  • It is the essential delivery of health care services where distance is a critical factor — comes in.
  • At least one doctor is needed for a population of 1,000, according to WHO guidelines.
  • Telemedicine, thus, holds significance for countries like India that have low doctor-to-patient ratios.

About the guidelines

  • The guidelines aim to empower registered doctors to reach out to patients safely using technologies for the exchange of valid information.
  • This information can be used for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation and for continuing the education of healthcare providers.
  • The guidelines have empowered medical practitioners. They have, however, also imposed many restrictions.
  • Registered medical practitioners, for instance, have to take the patient’s consent.
  • If the patient denies her consent, however, the practitioner cannot insist that the patient to go in for telemedicine.

How telemedicine can help against COVID-19?

  • Telemedicine can help bridging the gap between people, physicians and health systems, enabling everyone, especially symptomatic patients, to stay at home and communicate with physicians through virtual channels.
  • It thus helps reducing the spread of the virus to mass populations and the medical staff on the frontlines.
  • It can help provide routine care for patients with chronic diseases who are at high risk if exposed to the virus.

Limitations

  • The out-of-hospital management is has not been yet established in India. Perhaps a ‘crisis-based’ evolution of telemedicine can help find local testing centers and also manage the flow of patients seeking a test.
  • However, for a smaller subset of higher risk patients, the clinical course may not be consistent with conventional telemedicine.
  • These patients often present with a more serious condition require rapid hospitalization.
  • Telemedicine hasn’t traditionally been used in response to public health crises. Many health practitioners are not equipped to deliver care in this way.
  • Another issue is access to broadband – some hospitals struggle with running a quality connection within their facilities and now we are faced with taking this to potential new areas of care, such as an outside tent.
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