Sindh Assembly body approves telemedicine bill

Published October 23, 2021
A resident carries his sick son as he chats with a nurse after an online doctor gave a prescription for medicine. — AFP/File
A resident carries his sick son as he chats with a nurse after an online doctor gave a prescription for medicine. — AFP/File

KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly Standing Committee on Health on Friday unanimously approved the draft Sindh Telemedicine and TeleHealth Bill 2021.

It will now be presented in the next session of the assembly for legislation. Once passed by the assembly, the act will be applicable across the province forthwith.

The meeting was presided over by Dr Sohrab Sirki, the chairman of the standing committee. Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho and parliamentary secretary Qasim Soomro also attended it.

The bill aims to facilitate, enhance and improve access to healthcare through distant health platforms and ease the shortage of healthcare professionals.

Its main features include registration of all healthcare professionals providing telehealth services. The registered healthcare professionals will be called ‘Registered Medical Practitioners’ (RMPs).

Ensuring privacy RMPs job

“RMPs shall ensure privacy and security of platforms to be used for protection of data, information and documents and any other material and should set up reasonable security practices and measures in collection and storage of personal data.

The new law will improve access to healthcare through distant health platforms

“No data or information shall be shared without the consent of the patient or authorised caregiver. Any breach in this will result in a penalty of Rs100,000 or punishment for the term of two years either or both,” according to the bill.

The RMPs can only prescribe via tele-consultation medicines approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).

Under the bill, the RMPs shall be held responsible for breach of confidentiality if there is reasonable evidence to believe that the patient’s privacy and confidentiality is compromised by technology breach by any person other than the RMPs.

Misconduct associated with telemedicine would include (a) wilfully compromising patient’s care, privacy and confidentiality or violating any prevailing law (b) insisting on telemedicine by rules when a patient is willing to travel to a facility and/or request in-person consultation (c) misusing patient’s images and data especially of private and sensitive in nature by the RMP and (d) to solicit patients for telemedicine through any advertisements or inducement without permission by the RMP.

Law to help non-practising female doctors

During the meeting, Dr Pechuho said telemedicine was an important today’s needs and the bill would benefit those female doctors who were unable to practice due to personal issues.

The RMPs, she said, could access the rescue ambulance services in case of an emergency.

“The health department’s collaboration with the Aman Foundation in providing telehealth services during the Covid-19 pandemic has been successful. Telehealth services could also play a critical role in times of disaster,” she said.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2021

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