Informed consent for telemedicine in South Africa: A survey of consent practices among healthcare professionals in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
AbstractBackground. The Health Professions Council of South Africa is drafting guidelines to regulate the practice of telemedicine. These emphasise the need for signed informed consent for all aspects of the consultation process, including data transmission and storage. Objective. To survey current practices relating to gaining informed consent both in routine clinical practice and when using information communication technologies (ICT).
Methods. A cross-sectional descriptive study was undertaken using a self-administered questionnaire. It surveyed healthcare professionals’ habits and practices of obtaining informed consent in clinical practice scenarios and when using the telephone, fax and email for communication and healthcare provision.
Results. A total of 193 doctors and 207 nurses completed the questionnaire. Fewer doctors took written consent than nurses, with a range of 2.6% when examining a patient to 8.3% when ordering a special examination. A significant difference was observed for all activities. Of the 67.4% doctors and 50.7% nurses who faxed patient information, only 35.3% of doctors and 42.9% of nurses obtained informed consent to do
so and less than half of those obtained written consent. Few used email to send patient information, with specialists being most likely to do so among doctors (p<0.0001). Of all healthcare professionals who used email, 40.7% obtained informed consent to do so.
Conclusions. Written informed consent is not routinely obtained from patients during clinical examination or when using ICT for the transfer of patient information. The issue of informed consent for telemedicine remains unresolved in South Africa.