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In India, the most prominent challenge people face while booking a doctor consultation online is getting assurance about its credibility. I wanted to understand the regulations around this in detail. So I called up a friend of mine who happens to be an expert lawyer in this field.

We met and I bombarded him with questions. Here’s an excerpt of our little but enlightening interaction:

What does the law say about online consultations that doctors provide?

While consulting online is very popular these days, the law does not have clear regulations on it. He told me that as per section 27 of the MCI Act, a practitioner registered in Indian Medical Register can practice anywhere in India.

Does that mean a doctor can check a patient online from anywhere?

He told me that it was not that straightforward and that practicing anywhere has more to do with the locations than with the methods. He further said that as per the Indian courts, a doctor needs to conduct a physical examination of a patient before giving an online prescription of medicine.

In online consultation, we cannot have any physical examination. So are we saying it is illegal?

Indian law does not term online doctor appointments as illegal. The contracts of platforms providing online consultations make them immune from legal liabilities. Thus it all comes down to what the doctor and the patient decide. When you visit a doctor in person and are not satisfied with the diagnosis, you would simply go and visit another doctor. You should do the same if you are not satisfied with the online consultation you received.

Most of the people use online consultation for everyday problems like cough, cold and infections. As far as the doctor is confident about the diagnosis and the problem is not unusual, you won’t even have to think about the legal grounds for online consultation.

What if a patient is unable to explain his problems clearly?

In such cases, a physical visit to a doctor is recommended. The patient should try online consultation and see what is the diagnosis performed by the doctor. Usually, if a doctor is not satisfied with the diagnosis he will refer more tests or may even recommend a visit in person. If you have doubts about the online consultation you received, you can always take a second opinion and see some other doctor.

Let’s assume that a patient has some complaints regarding the online consultation she received. What can she do about it?

There are several legal options available to her. She can go to the consumer, civil or criminal court, depending on the nature of the case. That said and done, patients should be aware of why they are seeing the doctor. You may not know what the issue is before a thorough diagnosis is conducted. But after diagnosis, if the issue turns out to be something very serious, it is recommended that you go and see a doctor in person as well. In such cases, you can take the online diagnosis with you when you see the doctor in person.

The diagnosis in itself is very subjective. Thus, it is recommended that you use online doctor consultation as an aid to a physical examination; especially if the issue is critical.

Finally – what is the future of online consultation in India?

My learned friend told me that the laws will need more clarity and will have to define what are the boundaries in this area. Once that has been achieved, an online consultation will become smoother. But even then, technology has made online consultations very convenient for both doctors and patients. If both of them are comfortable with the treatment, it can be a boon to many people who are running on busy schedules or don’t have access to a doctor at the moment.

In Conclusion

The legal system is yet to formulate a comprehensive framework around online consultations in medicine. But patients can take advantage of this technology and get in touch with doctors and specialists, especially in situations where a physical consultation would’ve been tedious. Like most other online services, online consultations provide standardized consulting and convenience. It is great for both doctors and patients who can now achieve more within the same amount of time.

 

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