The AMA has welcomed on-line consultations as an important additional tool in doctors' medical kits, particularly to help patients living in remote areas.
AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today that doctors are increasingly acknowledging the potential advantages that technology will add to medical encounters in the future.
But in adopting the new Position Statement on On-Line and Other Broadband Connected Medical Consultations, the AMA's Federal Council made it clear that doctors must be cautious and should hold electronic consultations under very specific conditions.
'As technology becomes integrated into routine medical practice, doctors must ensure that benefits to patient care are realised and risks associated with electronic data are minimised,' Dr Haikerwal said.
Dr Haikerwal said the Position Statement recognises the particular advantages of telecommunications in consultations for people who live great distances from their nearest doctor.
'For patients living in rural and remote areas who cannot easily see a doctor face-to-face, or to provide specialised support, on-line consultations may be essential,' Dr Haikerwal said.
'But seeing a patient over a broadband connection can never be the same as a face-to-face consultation and examination.'
The AMA recognises that on-line consultations can offer a useful alternative to the traditional face-to-face visit, but cautions that doctors must decide on a case-by-case basis whether an electronic consultation is appropriate.
'On-line consultations should never compromise the quality and safety of patient care, or be used when a patient's condition necessitates face-to-face consultations,' Dr Haikerwal said.
'In most circumstances, the AMA only supports on-line consultations where a relationship already exists between the patient and the doctor.
'And we have advised doctors that if they want to hold on-line consultations, they must first ask the patient to consent in writing to strict terms and conditions outlining the type of care that can be provided through such consultations.'