The Chinese government has been actively promoting internet-based medicine in mainland China since 2014. On July 17, 2018, the National Health Committee (NHC) and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine jointly issued the three fundamental rules that formed the basic legal framework of China’s internet-based medicine:
According to the above three rules, internet-based medicine in mainland China is classified into three categories:
Domestic medical institution through its registered physicians to provide follow-up consultation for patients with common diseases and/or chronic diseases as well as “Internet+” family doctor engagement services via the internet or other information technologies provided under the Measures for Internet-Based Diagnosis.
Online extension of services provided by domestic medical institution itself with registered physicians of its own or from other medical institutions; or independent online platform operated by third party entity relying on a group of domestic medical institutions; either way, an operator of an internet hospital shall register with the competent health administration.
Medical activities where a domestic medical institution, either directly sends out the invitation by itself or indirectly through third party virtual healthcare matching platforms, to invite one or more other domestic medical institutions to provide technical support for diagnosis and treatment of patients of the inviting domestic medical institution using information technologies.
At the current stage, all three categories of the internet-based medicine under the existing People’s Republic of China (PRC) laws are dependent on physical medical institutions established within mainland China. The main responsible parties with respect to internet-based medicine under the current PRC laws are domestic medical institutions and/or other domestic entities (e.g., third party matching platforms).
Further, the existing PRC laws still require that physicians must conduct in-person consultation and examination on patients in their first visits to physical hospitals before the online follow-up consultation. That said, this restriction may be lifted in the future given a new policy document released on April 7, 2020 explicitly mentioned promoting the development of internet-based first consultation, but detailed implementation rules are yet to be seen.
The Chinese government keeps adjusting regulations on internet-based medicine as there are still many issues that have not yet been addressed under the existing legal framework. For instance, requirements on internet-based cross-border medicine are still unclear because the existing legal framework only focuses on regulating internet-based medicine provided by domestic entities and physicians. For foreign investors who are interested in China’s internet-based medicine market, the following may need to be taken into consideration as a preliminary risk assessment when contemplating relevant investment plans:
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Dr. Joachim Heine
*A solicitor of Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, a Singapore law corporation affiliated with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP