The government has formally allowed people to get a medical consultation from a doctor over a telephone or a video call, issuing a notification late on Wednesday for a move that had been in the pipeline for years but was expedited in wake of the Covid-19 outbreak that has triggered a three-week national lockdown.

According to the notification, the Medical Council of India-Board of Governors (MCI-BoG) has amended the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, to include telemedicine consultations by a registered medical practitioner. The guidelines, however, prohibit the use of digital technology to conduct surgical or invasive procedures remotely.

Telemedicine includes all channels of communication with the patient that leverage information technology platforms, including voice, audio, text and digital data exchange.

With hospitals closing their out-patient departments (OPDs) and cancelling elective procedures to focus on Covid-19 cases, the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Niti Aayog prepared guidelines on telemedicine practise to enable registered medical practitioners to provide health care advice online and remotely.

The guidelines specify dos and don'ts for doctors and also provides a list of medicines that can be prescribed by doctors to treat patients.

Health care providers say it is a welcome move as many people currently in home quarantine will have the option of seeking a consultation over the phone, or via video conferencing or chats.

"…a number of people under self-quarantine are seeking medical advice through virtual consultations to better monitor and manage their condition. Telemedicine has also helped reduce the spread of the virus by reducing hospital footfalls," Dr Shankar Narang, COO, Paras Healthcare, said.

"Telemedicine services should, however, be avoided for emergency care when alternative in-person care is available, and telemedicine consultation should be limited to first-aid, life-saving measures, counselling and advice on referral," the guidelines further stated.

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