Legal Update

Apr 10, 2020

Recent Trends in Telemedicine in China

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The COVID-19 outbreak inevitability has spurred unprecedented progress on a paradigm shift to telemedicine. According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, China is already the world’s third largest Med Tech market and expected to grow rapidly in the years ahead.

Digital health care platforms

In the past weeks, digital health care platforms have emerged. One such provider launched a COVID-19 platform in January 2020 and reported that thousands of doctors had provided nearly 1.5 million consultations through the platform by the end of February. Meanwhile, another digital health platform reported as early as 31 January that its platform had more than 1,000 doctors participating, and more than 3,000 patients seeking consultations per hour.

Other tech firms have deployed apps that produce colored QR codes according to user responses to questions on travel over the past two weeks. These apps have assisted the Chinese government with tracking down suspected novel coronavirus patients and monitoring Chinese citizens as businesses gradually resume operations.

What the law says

The National Health and Family Planning Commission of China (“NHFPC”) promulgated a framework regulation for telemedicine back in 2014, but it only opened the door for “health care matching platforms” in July 2018 by recognizing such platforms as one of the two telemedicine methods under the “Guidance for the Administration of Remote Medical Services (for Trial Implementation)” (the “Guidance”). The other method refers to “direct coordination” between medical institutions.

Under the Guidance, medical institutions must clearly explain the fees and the content of the medical services and obtain each patient’s (or the guardian’s or relative’s) written consent to the same, as well as a consent to providing personal information.

The Guidance also requires the medical institution to enter into a telemedicine cooperation agreement (this could be implemented by electronic signature) with the health care platform to clarify, among others, the risk and liability allocation and service delivery process.

There are various regulations on the protection of personal medical data in China. During the pandemic, the Chinese government urgently issued notices to permit the sharing of personal medical data to keep track of suspected novel coronavirus patients for the purpose of public health.

Going forward, the draft “Law on the Promotion of Basic Medical and Health Care” approved by the National People’s Congress will become effective from 1 June 2020. The draft law clearly contemplates the promotion and implementation of medical information exchange and safety system and telemedicine services. The reform and development of this area was started long ago, but the COVID-19 outbreak expedited its enhancement into a period of rapid growth.