Are telemedicine apps a platform or medical institution?

I applaud the Ministry of Health's plan to regulate telemedicine (Skip queue at the clinic - use app to 'see' the doctor; April 19).

The main issue with telemedicine, however, is the role of the app.

Are the apps that offer telemedicine a mere platform, where patients and doctors are matched, or are they medical establishments themselves?

All healthcare institutions like clinics and hospitals have to comply with rules and regulations that have been set up by the MOH.

In particular, electronic medical records must be kept safely and securely for a patient's lifetime and an additional six years afterwards.

If telemedicine apps are merely platforms, then the responsibility of keeping the medical records would be borne by the doctors consulting the patients.

The doctors would then be obliged to keep the electronic records, be it in the form of photos, videos or voice recordings, in a safe system for a prolonged period of time.

If such apps function as healthcare institutions, then they will be regulated by the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act.

Besides having to keep medical records appropriately, the service would also have to abide by the appropriate advertising and quality assurance guidelines.

This reminds me of similar questions that arose about Uber - whether it is a transport company or merely a platform, and if the company or its drivers should be held accountable for the safety of its passengers.

It is time for all stakeholders to take a serious look at such disruptive technology.

Desmond Wai Chun Tao (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Are telemedicine apps a platform or medical institution?'. Print Edition | Subscribe