Acknowledging that medical practitioners are faced with an ethical dilemma of how to contribute to the national endeavours of self-isolation and social distancing and continue to be accessible to their patients within the current Telemedicine framework of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), the Council has issued a guide in the application of its Telemedicine Guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

The HPCSA Telemedicine Guidelines are contained in Booklet 10 of the Guidelines For Good Practice in the Healthcare Professions and should now be applied as follows: 

·         “Telemedicine” is hereby replaced with “Telehealth” which includes amongst others, 

·         Telemedicine, Telepsychology, Telepsychiatry, Telerehabilitation, etc., and involves remote consultation with patients using telephonic or virtual platforms of consultation. 

·         Telehealth is only permissible in circumstances where there is an already established practitioner-patient relationship, except where Telepsychology and/or Telepsychology is involved, in which case telehealth is permissible even without an established practitioner- patient relationship. 

·         Practitioners may charge a fee for services rendered through a telehealth platform. 

·         Where practitioners are in doubt whether a telehealth consultation will be in the best interest of the patient, they are encouraged to advise patients to present themselves for a face-to-face consultation to seek assistance at a health care facility closest to them. 

“This guideline,” the Council stressed in its guidance statement, “is only applicable during the COVID-19 pandemic. The HPCSA shall, soon after the end of the pandemic, inform practitioners of when this guidance will cease to apply. 

“Practitioners,” the communique concludes, “should always endeavour to ensure that they always adhere to the provisions of Ethical Rule 27 A of the Ethical Rules of Conduct for Practitioners Registered Under the Health Professions Act.” 

SOURCE: Dr MA Kwinda, Acting Registrar/CEO, Health Professions Council of South Africa