Availability of healthcare services and essential goods such as drugs to consumers has been a paramount concern of the Central Government during the country-wide lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. To this end, the Government has introduced certain measures such as regulated sale of retail drugs through door-step delivery to consumers and guidelines to regulate the provision of telemedicine services to enable the remote screening and diagnosis of patients.
.While several entities have already been home delivering drugs, this notification goes on to recognise this activity and lays down the appropriate compliances.
The medicines that may be prescribed by the RMP are also classified in the Guidelines. The Guidelines create a prohibited list of drugs that cannot be prescribed based on a telemedicine consultation. Presently, this list contains drugs listed in Schedule X of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 or any narcotic or psychotropic substance listed in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Act, 1985. Further, the Guidelines prescribe the process flows for various kinds of telemedicine consultations such as the manner of obtaining patient consent, types of consultations, patient management, manner of prescribing medication etc.
The Guidelines also regulate previously unregulated technology platforms, such as mobile apps and websites that provide telemedicine services to consumers. Such platforms are now required to comply with certain requirements such as ensuring that the consumers are consulting only with RMPs and conducting due diligence before listing any RMP on its online portal. They are also required to ensure that there is a proper mechanism in place to address any queries or grievances that the end-customer may have. While technology platforms can provide tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to be used by RMPs for support and assistance, the final prescription and counselling must be conducted only by the RMP. These technologies may be used only to support and assist the RMP. Given their business models, it stands to reason that a large portion of the above-mentioned compliances imposed on RMPs would have to be in effect operationalised by the platforms themselves and therefore, the Guidelines may require technology platforms to modify their existing operations to comply with the due diligence and technology-related compliances. Any non-compliance with the guidelines may lead to blacklisting of the technology platform, and no RMP may then use that platform to provide telemedicine.
The measures will hopefully provide much needed support to the healthcare sector in India to enable it to respond nimbly to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond.
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