MOH will step up efforts to educate patients on telemedicine

Doctors operating remotely are expected to provide the same quality and standard of care as in-person medical care.
Doctors operating remotely are expected to provide the same quality and standard of care as in-person medical care.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Twelve MPs spoke during the debate on the Healthcare Services Bill yesterday. Here are some of the issues raised, and the responses by Senior Minister of State Edwin Tong.

WHAT DOES REGULATION ENTAIL?

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) were among several MPs who asked how emerging services will be regulated under the new regime.

Mr Tong said telemedicine remains regulated by standards such as the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) ethical code and guidelines. The National Telemedicine Guidelines also set out specific guidelines that registered doctors and healthcare professionals have to abide by.

The broad principle is that doctors operating remotely are expected to provide the same quality and standard of care as in-person medical care.

The doctor should clearly indicate the limitations of his telemedicine services at the start of the consultation, and refer the patient for an in-person consultation when he is unable to form a sufficient judgment to discharge the expected standard of care.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has also set up a regulatory sandbox to work closely with telemedicine providers to co-develop service-specific regulations.

The new law does not have transboundary powers.

However, if the telemedicine provider (from wherever he might be) offers services that are received in Singapore, they must be licensed, and all foreign doctors working for the provider must be registered with the SMC.

MOH will continue to improve patient engagement and education on the benefits and limitations of telemedicine, including consuming healthcare services from abroad where oversight and regulatory enforcement are not as readily available, so that patients can make an informed decision.

HOW ARE PATIENTS PROTECTED?

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Ms Lee also asked how patients can be prevented from being misled by unqualified providers.

 
 

Mr Tong said the licensee is responsible for ensuring their personnel are appropriately qualified and competent.

If unqualified personnel provide healthcare services, MOH can investigate and take appropriate action.

The ministry can also publish information to ensure patient welfare, or in the public interest. This includes a list of unlicensed providers.

That said, public education is equally important to prevent or reduce such misimpressions, and MOH will enhance such efforts.

When in doubt, patients can also check registers maintained by the professional boards like the SMC.

WILL HEALTHCARE COSTS RISE?

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked about the impact on costs.

Mr Tong said the law improves price transparency, such as requiring licensees to display common charges. It also mandates financial counselling and itemisation of bills for certain procedures conducted by hospitals or specialist clinics.

Service review committees will also monitor the use and clinical outcomes of certain high-cost, complex services like proton beam therapy to ensure care is appropriate and cost-effective.

Based on MOH's preliminary assessment, more than 95 per cent of existing providers will see no change - or a decrease - in the amount of fees to be paid. The remainder are mainly those who will be providing new licensable services regulated under the new law.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'MOH will step up efforts to educate patients on telemedicine'. Print Edition | Subscribe