Telemedicine and mHealth patents protect innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) in healthcare. After Covid-19 pandemic, the government of India has issued Telemedicine Practice Guidelines to enable the registered medical practitioners to provide healthcare using Telemedicine.
Patents in the field of telemedicine and mHealth (mobile health) form a crucial part of patent strategy developed by technology companies. As an example, Apple has filed multiple patents covering innovations for managing medical data and health records API. Google has also filed patents in this category for innovations relating to fundamentals of deep learning and EHR (Electronic Health Records) analytics.
Telemedicine has several benefits which include timely access to appropriate interventions like faster access and access to services that may not be available otherwise. In India, the availability of limited resources and large geographical distances makes In-person healthcare quite challenging. The major advantage of telemedicine is that its cost-saving and effort, especially of rural patients as this, would help in saving time and resources for traveling long distances for consultation and treatment.
Telemedicine plays a vital role in cases where the patient does not need to physically see the RMP or any other medical professional. This would help in reducing the burden on secondary hospitals. To date, the biggest challenge the healthcare sector faces is from Disasters and Pandemics. A visit to telemedicine is conducted without exposing any medical staff to viruses or infections during outbreaks.
Telemedicine can play a huge role in preventing the transmission of infectious diseases, thereby reducing risks to both health care workers and patients. Telemedicine also makes the availability of extra working hands to provide physical care at the health care institutions. Consequently, telemedicine health systems are invested to ensure that COVID-19 patients receive the necessary care.
Innovations covering telemedicine and mHealth applications are protected by way of patents filed through international patent filing mechanisms. The first step to initiate the patent process is to conduct a patent prior art search followed by patentability analysis to determine the patent eligibility of the invention.
Purpose of Telemedicine
The purpose of the telemedicine guidelines is to give practical advice to doctors, to ensure that all services and models of care used by doctors and the health workers are persuaded to use telemedicine for practice. These guidelines will ensure that all the necessary information on various aspects of telemedicine including information on technology platforms and tools are made available to medical practitioners. It also provides technology and transmission of voice, data, images, and information that should be used in combination with other clinical standards, protocols, policies, and procedures for the provision of care. Therefore it is clinically appropriate, safe and effective with a valuable modality to support patient care.
Telemedicine in India
As per government guidelines, the definitions of important terms are listed below:
Telemedicine: Under the World Healthcare Organisation, The delivery of health-care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health-care professionals using information and communications technologies for the conveyance of data important for the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and injuries, research, and increasing knowledge of health-care professionals, to ensure safe health.
Telehealth: Telehealth serves as a broader term of use of technology for health and health-related services including telemedicine.
Registered Medical Practitioner (RMP): Registered Medical Practitioner is a person who is enrolled in the State Medical Register or the Indian Medical Register under the IMC Act, 1956.
Scope of Telemedicine
The guidelines published under the IMC Act are designed as an aid and a tool to permit Registered Medical Practitioners to effectively control Telemedicine to encourage healthcare services. The guidelines are meant for RMPs under the IMC Act, which cover the norms and standards of the RMP to check patients through telemedicine. The guidelines further include all channels of communication with the patient.
The Registered Medical Practitioners are entitled to provide effective telemedicine consultation to patients from any part of India. also, RMPs are entitled to follow the same professional and ethical norms and standards as followed by traditional in-person care.
There are multiple applications of telemedicine and it employs numerous tools, wherein the RMPs are entitled to use any telemedicine tool suitable for carrying technology-based patient consultation like telephone, video, devices or connection through various chat platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. Regardless of the communication tools used, the chief components of telemedicine remain consistent. The core principle of telemedicine practice remains the same irrespective of the tool for communication used.
Telemedicine applications can be classified as the mode of communication, timing of the information transmitted, the purpose of the consultation and the interaction between the individuals involved. Various technologies can be used to transfer or deliver telemedicine consultation. Video, Audio, and Text are three primary modes with various strengths and limitations.
The strengths of telemedicine include video consultations, as it helps in making the patent identification easy. Video tools also ensure the effective inspection of the patient. The audio tools prove to be most suitable for urgent cases like one can consult the patient through a phone call. It also ensures privacy and is most convenient. As an alternative, text based communication can help in keeping documentation and identification as an integral feature of the platform. It is most suitable for urgent cases, or follow-ups or second opinions.
The challenges for providing healthcare by way of telemedicine include issues with video tools, as video is dependent on the high-quality internet connection which can be an issue in rural areas. There is also a possibility of the patient’s information being abused or misused. In case of audio tools, it is not suitable for cases where physical inspection is necessary like skin or eye examination. There is also a possibility of imposters representing themselves as patients. Also, text-based interactions may lead to missed verbal cues. It also becomes difficult for the RMPs to establish rapport with the patient. Also, one cannot ensure both the identity of the doctor or the patient at the time of consultation.
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Advocate Rahul Dev is a Patent Attorney & International Business Lawyer practicing Technology, Intellectual Property & Corporate Laws. He is reachable at rd (at) patentbusinesslawyer (dot) com & @rdpatentlawyer on Twitter.
Quoted in and contributed to 50+ national & international publications (Bloomberg, FirstPost, SwissInfo, Outlook Money, Yahoo News, Times of India, Economic Times, Business Standard, Quartz, Global Legal Post, International Bar Association, LawAsia, BioSpectrum Asia, Digital News Asia, e27, Leaders Speak, Entrepreneur India, VCCircle, AutoTech).
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