Telemedicine in India began in the year 2001 after ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) introduced Telemedicine Pilot Project that linked Chennai’s Apollo Hospital to Apollo Rural Hospital at Aragonda village. Later efforts were undertaken by ISRO, the Department of Information Technology (DIT), the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the governments of the states played a vital role in the growth of telemedicine services in India. In 2005, the Department of Information Technology in India along with the government and the Ministry of Health set up the National Telemedicine Task Force and gave guidelines to practice telemedicine.
Some significant examples of effective telemedicine services in India include mammography services at the Sri Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; oncology at the Regional Cancer Center, Trivandrum; surgical services at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Telemedicine and Biomedical Informatics School, and so many more. Telemedicine also helps in areas where large populations meet occasionally / periodically at a time when providing medical care becomes the hour’s need; for example, during Maha Kumbh Melas the Uttar Pradesh government performs telemedicine.
During this time when India’s healthcare system needs telemedicine the most to fight coronavirus, the Ministry of Health and the government are trying their best to clear the path for healthcare workers to practice telemedicine properly. The Health Ministry recently introduced new guidelines for physicians to practice telemedicine. The guidelines provide information on different aspects of telemedicine, including the technology systems and resources available to medical practitioners, and how these technologies can be applied to deliver healthcare services. It also explains how voice, data, images, and information technology and delivery should be used in accordance with other clinical guidelines, protocols, policies, and care provision procedures.
This move, aimed at helping healthcare facilities in the wake of COVID-19, would also make healthcare available to remote areas in general and enable faster intervention with current immobilizations due to coronavirus making hospitals and clinics more difficult. But practicing telemedicine is not that easy. While physicians consult patients online, they are accessing personal information of patients in chaotic times. Technology is a boon but it also makes patient’s personal information vulnerable especially during a global pandemic.
The following steps can be performed by physicians to protect the personal information of patients:
- First, Doctors can use a “dummy” email address to use when making calls. Doctors will then set up an auto-reply message for the account to warn patients that the email address is unprotected and direct them to the appropriate contact information of the physician’s clinic.
- Second, doctors should access their phone’s “Settings” tab, and select the “Apple ID, iCloud, iTunes & App Store” option. Next, they can access the setting “Name, Phone Numbers, Email” and click the “Reachable in” button to delete. An option to “Add Email or Phone Number” appears. Click the “Add an Email Address” link to add dummy account information.
- Last, return to the main settings screen and open the FaceTime option, locate the “Caller ID” feature, and choose the new “Caller ID” dummy e-mail address.
When using FaceTime for a telemedicine call, patients will see the dummy email address, instead of any commonly used personal email addresses or phone numbers.