This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Ms Natasha Sharma, a 4and Medical student from Gauhati Medical College, Assam, India. It is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), a cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the author and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s point of view on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.
Telemedicine has been available for over a decade now. However, it has carved a niche for itself in the healthcare industry during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The past two years have seen minor and elective consultations take a back seat in developed and developing countries due to a lack of sufficient health personnel to manage the pandemic and public fear of seeking health care from of facilities actively treating and admitting COVID-19 patients. . This gap between health service providers and recipients has been, fortunately or unfortunately, exploited by several third parties. Large pharmaceutical companies, multi-center hospitals and diagnostic chains have teamed up with software companies and started offering affordable and easily accessible healthcare from the comfort of their own home, just a click away on the internet.
E-health has become an overnight success and a go-to choice for a large portion of the population in developing countries like India, where the public health system was already overburdened. Several patients, like victims of abuse, people with mental health issues, both of whom were on the rise in the pandemic, who otherwise would never have come into contact with the medical system either due to stigma or lack of resources or awareness of how to get medical help, were able to reach a health care professional. The prospect of working from the safety of their homes, avoiding PPE and the risk of infection, and being paid handsomely for their consultation was ridiculous enough that several hundred doctors joined these platforms. Many took on the responsibility in addition to their daily work, some for profit, while several volunteered for free.
Telemedicine has made leaps and bounds in terms of ease of access, technology and, most importantly, the increased assistance of artificial intelligence (AI) to assess patients, identify and locate details that might otherwise be missed by humans. Although it mostly works in favor of the patient, the question here is whether we are better off or worse off because of this assistance or, in some cases, undue interference. AI can overdiagnose cases where there is nothing to fear and create unnecessary panic and mental stress in the patient and raise questions about the credibility of the doctor. Another important overlooked issue is the tendency of digital service providers to record and store their service interactions. As these teleconsultations take place via third-party servers, the principle of bioethics regarding confidentiality and doctor-patient privilege is violated. What happened during a consultation is recorded and kept for a long time, in some cases for posterity, under the term “for quality and training purposes”.
Although digital medicine has saved lives and promoted social distancing, with almost no legal framework and internationally accepted regulations, steps must be taken to ensure patient privacy and the quality and competence of the technology that contributes to this. revolutionary movement. Nevertheless, it must be remembered and reminded to future patients that e-medicine cannot be superior to the clinical examination of a doctor and that telemedicine is not the remedy, but the bandage.
About the Author
Natasha Sharma is a 4and Medical student from Gauhati Medical College, Assam, India. She was a member of the UNESCO-MSAI Bioethics Unit for the last term and she is currently the Chair of the Bioethics Unit of the Rotaract Club of the Caduceus, the youth wing of the Rotary Club of Bombay Central. She is passionate about bioethics and defends sexual and reproductive rights. She is involved in research and hopes to pursue a future in public health. She likes to write her thoughts but rarely publishes formal writings. She is an avid reader and reads fiction whenever she can.