Singapore Licensing of Telemedicine
Video consultations in telemedicine in Singapore rose throughout 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Video consultations and telemedicine pilots began at six public health institutions as early as 2017. Only 1,947 patients used the service between 2017 and the start of 2020. By January 2021, 36,000 patients had sought medical help via video consultations.
In the past, telemedicine was employed for review consult cases which were stable, where physical checks and tests were not required, and where patients had access to the appropriate devices and connectivity. The initial pilots were for disciplines such as mental health, renal medicine, pharmacy, epilepsy, and dementia.
Telemedicine can help tackle the problem of Singapore’s overcrowded hospitals and specialist outpatient clinics, saving patients commuting and appointment waiting time. Apart from public hospitals, private sector healthcare providers are offering telemedicine as an option. Even Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCMs) firms acknowledge that the pandemic has disrupted the way they do business. They already sell products online but are now also offering teleconsultation services.
To this end, the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) started a regulatory sandbox for telemedicine in 2018 to better understand the risks, and as of February 2021, are satisfied that it had achieved the objectives. It had, in the interim, introduced a voluntary listing of direct telemedicine providers that have agreed to comply with the MOH telemedicine e-training. There are more than 600 telemedicine providers on the list including public hospitals, clinics and telemedicine firms. Only registered providers can offer consultations to patients under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) and tap Medisave (Singapore’s compulsory national medical savings plan), for video consultations for follow-up of certain chronic conditions.
As of October 2021, twenty chronic conditions, including osteoporosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and ischemic heart disease, were added to the list.
MOH aims to license telemedicine services in mid-2022 as part of the phasing in of the upcoming Healthcare Services Act. The Health Services Bill was approved by Parliament in January 2020 and was supposed to be implemented in three phases, from early 2021 to end 2022. However, last year’s pandemic derailed this and the new timeline is now scheduled for September 2021 to March 2023.
This will replace the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act of 1980 which was last amended in 1999. The broadened scope of the new Healthcare Services Act will include healthcare services, allied health and nursing services, traditional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine. It aims to better safeguard the safety and well-being of patients amidst the changing healthcare environment while enabling the development of innovative services that benefit patients. It will also strengthen governance and regulatory clarity for better continuity of care to patients and address wider issues of patient welfare.
For more information visit: Singapore Health Sciences Authority: Regulatory Guidelines for Telehealth Products https://www.hsa.gov.sg/docs/default-source/hprg-mdb/regulatory-guidelines-for-telehealth-products-rev-2-1.pdf
Singapore Statutes Healthcare Services Act 2020: https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/HSA2020/Uncommenced/20200824232713?DocDate=20200312
For more information contact: Luanne Theseira at Luanne.Theseira@trade.gov.