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Regulations covering medicine by phone face review

Source:China Daily

Shan Juan

Updated: 2014-09-12

The regulations governing telemedicine are to be further strengthened following its increased use due to advances in information technology.

As the use of telemedicine keeps increasing, the authorities need to fine-tune the regulations, particularly in management criteria, implementation procedures, accountability, and routine supervision, said Li Dachuan, the medical treatment and nursing chief of the National Health and Family Planning Commission's Medical Administration Bureau, at a media conference on Thursday.

In a latest initiative, the commission has issued a regulation on advancing telemedicine by medical institutions "that demonstrates full recognition of its significance improving public access into limited while highly quality medical resources". However, the regulation stipulates that nonmedical institutions are not allowed to practice it, which has raised some criticism among pioneering practitioners.

At haodf.com, a third-party platform for medical consultation, more than 330,000 physicians registered. They are open to online or telephone medical consultations booked via the platform.

The physicians, mostly employed at key public hospitals, are paid according to their proficiency.

For instance, a 10-minute consultation session with a senior specialist over the phone can cost 150 yuan ($24).

By contrast, to see such a specialist at a public hospital costs 14 yuan, but it might involve a lengthy waiting period.

A physician going by the pseudonym "Dr. Cool" said in a Sina Weibo post that he will continue with online and phone consultations in spite of the regulation by the authority.

Telemedicine may be practiced only at and by medical institutions, under the new regulation.

For instance, one hospital could help arrange for a distant consultation by another connected hospital, Li explained.

Individual physicians are prohibited from the practice without permission from the hospital where they work.

Li added telemedicine will be used mainly to support hospitals in less-developed areas that lack specialist medical expertise.

In China, distribution of quality medical resources is skewed in favor of the large cities, public health experts said.

Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical health care at a distance. It helps eliminate distance barriers and can improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities. It is also used to save lives in critical care and emergency situations.

shanjuan@chinadaily.com.cn

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