9 Mar 2012

E-Health In India Is Suffering From Legal Roadblocks

Electronic commerce (e-commerce) has finally been accepted as a viable business model in India. This is despite many shortcomings that are mostly legal and technological in nature. On the legal side, we have no dedicated e-commerce laws and regulations in India. On the technological side we are still looking forward to wider broadband penetration and technology awareness.

However, there is an aspect that may e-commerce enthusiastics in India have failed to understand. Online dealings give rise to many civil and criminal sanctions if not properly undertaken. For instance, if cyber law due diligence in India is not undertaken by e-commerce websites they may be held civilly and criminally liable for act or omissions on their part.

Similarly, e-commerce websites and platforms are Internet intermediaries who may have to comply with not only laws of India but also laws of other jurisdictions. In order to enjoy the protection of safe harbour in India, e-commerce websites must comply with Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011 of India.

Of all e-commerce fields, e-health in India is most delicate and difficult to establish. For instance, individuals and companies are shying away from selling prescribed medicines and drugs online. All the e-commerce players in e-health field are doing are selling healthcare and cosmetics through e-commerce websites.

E-health players in India cannot be blamed for this position. The Indian government has not made conducive environment for e-health in India. Since the legal risks of e-health in India are tremendous, e-health players are not opening online drugs and medicines stores in India.

When technology is used for medical purposes, it gives rise to medico legal and techno legal issues. In United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), etc are some of the laws that take care of medico legal and techno legal issues of e-health and telemedicine.

On the contrary, we have no dedicated e-health and telemedicine laws in India. Even essential attributes of these laws like privacy protection, data protection, data security, cyber security, confidentiality maintenance, etc are not governed by much needed dedicated laws.

E-health and telemedicine are very important part of health policy of India. However, legal enablement of e-health has not taken place in India. It is high time for Indian government in general and health ministry of India in particular to ensure legal enablement of e-health in India.