Introduction

Advances in technology and the so-called 'fourth industrial revolution' continue to have an effect on society and this has been felt most significantly in the communications sector. However, the effects of these technological advancements can be seen in many other industries, including medicine. For instance, telemedicine has rapidly developed and transformed the services provided by healthcare providers worldwide.

In Brazil, companies and individuals can provide telemedicine services only if they are registered with the regional council of medicine in their respective jurisdiction. Federal Council of Medicine (CFM) Resolution 1643, dated August 26 2002, regulates telemedicine services and recognises the World Medical Association Statement on Accountability, Responsibilities and Ethical Guidelines in the Practice of Telemedicine adopted at the 51st World Medical Assembly.

Benefits of telemedicine

Telemedicine allows physicians and other healthcare providers to practice medicine at a distance using telecoms technology. This has developed into several different forms, including telemonitoring and teleconsulting.

Telemedicine services can be beneficial for patients. In a country the size of Brazil, telemedicine can help with the treatment of patients located in geographically isolated regions. For example, a general practitioner may have to contact a specialist located thousands of miles away and share the patient data with him or her to identify the best treatment for a specific condition.

Telemonitoring is commonly used for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension. In this form of telemedicine, the physician and patient can exchange information electronically and the physician can remotely monitor the patient's physical condition, such as his or her blood pressure and sugar levels.

Recently, a partnership between one of the top Brazilian hospitals and a small hospital has been widely publicised. One month after the top hospital started to render its telemedicine assistance services to the smaller hospital, the mortality rate of the smaller hospital's intensive care unit has decreased by 50%.

Issues with telemedicine

Due to the expansion of telemedicine in Brazil, the CFM intends to review and update Resolution 1643. Through a public consultation process, the CFM will seek opinions to draft new legislation which is aligned with existing market practices. A review of the Code of Medical Ethics is also ongoing, the intention of which is to improve the code in light of the latest technological advances.

A key issue raised with respect to telemedicine involves ethics and the confidentiality of medical records. However, telecoms improvements have contributed to facilitating the use of telemedicine. For instance, by using digital certificates (also known as public key certificates), physicians can securely exchange information and maintain the confidentiality of patient medical records.

Comment

Advances in technology will continue to transform the world and improve human welfare. Telemedicine can play its role by contributing to the delivery of better healthcare services. In updating its regulation, Brazil hopes to contribute to the development of telemedicine and attract new players to its market of 200 million individuals.

For further information on this topic please contact Elysangela de Oliveira Rabelo or Fernanda de Queiróz at TozziniFreire Advogados by telephone (+55 11 50 86 50 00) or email (erabelo@tozzinifreire.com.br or fequeiroz@tozzinifreire.com.br). The TozziniFreire Advogados website can be accessed at www.tozzinifreire.com.br.