One of the difficulties which are confronting mankind in the 21st century is making excellent healthcare accessible to everyone. World Health Organization (WHO) has come up with Health for All strategy in the 21st century. Understanding this dream is going to be troublesome due to the burdens that are imposed on a developing world population by old and new sicknesses.
Generally, some portions of the trouble in accomplishing impartial access to the health care have been the non-availability of suppliers and the beneficiaries on the same spot and at the same time. Ongoing advances in information and communication technology has made significant advancements in dealing with this by expanding the number of ways in which health-care services can be delivered. This applies to both the developing nations with not so strong or stable economies and developed nations. The utilization of information and technology has improved the health care sector by a good margin.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the delivery of health-care services and the exchange of health-care information across distances. “The prefix ‘tele’ gets from the Greek for “at a distance”; henceforth more essentially it is a medical treatment from a distance. It encompasses the entire range of medical activities including diagnosis, treatment and anticipation of a disease, proceeding with information of health care providers, consumers, researchers, and evaluation.”1
People misinterpret telemedicine as a new branch of medical science. It is also not the universal cure or a mean by which traditional way of providing medical assistance can be replaced. Some people think that medicine is only for computer nerds, but it is not. It is just a way to deliver services to patients from a long distance. It is a process which involves information and communication technology where a Doctor can visit patients in a virtual way; usually over a live video chat.
History of Telemedicine
The telemedicine was introduced in the 1990s. With the developments in national postal services during the mid-19th century, telemedicine was established. Telegraphy was established and it was started being used. The telephone was considered to be a mode of communication through which medical or health service could be delivered. However, it was realized in the early 19th century that amplified sounds of telescopes can be shared through the telephone network and other devices. ECG and EEG can be done via the ordinary telephone network. The communication through radio became possible at the end of the 19th century. Use of radio to transmit medical or health information was recognized very quickly. The electronic and technological change has helped the telemedicine to advance quickly. The introduction of television also made a huge impact on the telemedicine facility. Closed circuit television and video communications became possible and subsequently they made telemedicine possible. The development in of technology in space is the reason behind the possibility of such invention. Today, people are able to communicate their problems to the Doctor or to a medical healthcare professional and get their problems solved. The medical facility is getting advanced day by day and new ways are being invented by scientists to make it secure for both the patients and the Doctors to communicate freely and in the best possible manner through which the problems of the patients can be cured without facing any security threats which would further result in enabling the patient to lead a healthy life by getting their problems sorted in the most easiest and efficient manner. Therefore, telemedicine has helped the world to live a healthy life and has also curtailed down the issue to travel from one place to another for treatment.
Today, the health-care department is working hard to help India overcome the deadly situation created due to a pandemic. The Doctors during their practice take the Hippocratic oath to protect their patient in every situation. Though, the Hippocratic Oath is not enforceable by law in the court but the Doctors are bound by certain rules and regulations in the court of law. Supreme Court in Mr. ‘X’ v. Hospital ‘Z’ (1998) 8 SCC 296, stated that it is the duty of a Doctor to maintain secrecy about the information shared by the patient. The Doctor is also not supposed to share the mode of treatment or the advice given to the patient with anybody else. The Doctor shares a professional and a commercial relationship with a patient and is therefore morally and ethically bound towards the patient. According to the Code of Medical Ethics prescribed by the Medical Council, a Doctor should not disclose the secret of the patients learnt by the Doctor during the tenure of the treatment. The secret can be discussed by a Doctor only in the court of law in front of a presiding judge. Any interpretation with the report made by a Doctor or any changes can lead to serious health complication to the patient which may prove to be mortal. Therefore, it is very important for the Doctor to keep the information very secure. The system in which the communication takes place should meet the security requirements including storage security, data encryption and network security.
The telemedicine system should have a smooth and secure environment before securing a connection with the other telemedicine system. The IT department has developed Unique Identifier for the patient. It has been developed with the motive of eliminating fraud and abuse in health care programs. The policy is very efficient in terms of protecting the cyber Doctor from any damage caused due to a possible security breach. The policy is also very efficient prospectively as the patients will not be required to visit the Doctor as the same could be done virtually with the help of telemedicine technology. Thus, with the help of such policy, the patients would trust the Doctors and tell the problem more confidently without the risk of security breach.
To safeguard the privacy and security of the patient’s data, a technique is used named as digital signature. It not only ensures the proper security provided to the information shared between the patient and Doctor but also it ensures that medical equipment cannot be used by anyone but trained staff and medical professionals of the hospital. The digital signature is considered to be a legal signature by the IT Act, 2000 and is assumed to be equal to the physical signature of the person. The medical profession in India is established under the Indian Medical Council Act. There is a procedure that is followed to get the Doctors registered. The Doctors are first enrolled in the medical register of a particular state pursuant to an application and thereafter they become the member of the Indian Medical Register. Since the practice of telemedicine is different from the traditional medical practice, it brings several complexities along with it. Therefore, separate licensing should be done for telemedicine as it carries various complexities in its practice.2
1By Richard Wootton, John Craig, Victor Patterson, Introduction to Telemedicine,(2d,ed 2017)
2Ajay Garg, Legal Issues in Telemedicine, Diplomaticsquare, Available at https://www.diplomaticsquare.com/legal-issues-in-telemedicine/ (Last accessed on July,17,2020 ,3:30PM)