International and local health providers in the UAE are increasingly looking to provide telemedicine services in the region. While the regulation of telemedicine remains inconsistent across the country, Dubai seems to be leading the way with significant regulatory developments in 2017.
Federal Regulatory Landscape
To market healthcare services in the UAE, a healthcare provider must establish a legal presence, hold a commercial licence to do business in the UAE (or in a free zone in the UAE), and possess the relevant healthcare provider licence. Until recently, the Abu Dhabi Health Authority (HAAD) was the only UAE health authority with a regulatory framework for telemedicine. While the Dubai Healthcare City Authority (DHCCA) has not yet implemented a telemedicine regulatory regime, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) recently implemented regulations governing the provision of telehealth care services in Dubai.
Previously, the DHA did not permit the licensing of telemedicine, with the exception of teleradiology. However, the DHA issued new regulations (DHA Regulations) on 21 February 2017 (effective on the date of issuance), permitting the licensing of telehealth care services (including telemedicine). The DHA Regulations stipulate that any natural or legal person wishing to establish, operate, or provide telehealthcare services in Dubai must obtain a licence from the DHA. The DHA Regulations also expressly allow healthcare facilities to add telehealthcare services to their existing licences.
HAAD implemented a sophisticated regulatory regime for telemedicine in 2013, under which it issued a telemedicine licence to the Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre. However, HAAD had suspended telemedicine licensing in Abu Dhabi for several months. Latham understands that HAAD recently lifted this suspension, as HAAD is currently accepting applications from parties interested in obtaining a telemedicine license.
A healthcare facility wishing to provide teleconsultation services from Abu Dhabi must be a HAAD-licensed healthcare facility specifically licenced to provide teleconsultation, or an existing HAAD-licenced facility authorised by HAAD to provide teleconsultation.
Dubai Healthcare City
The DHCC initially appeared to be taking the lead in the region in developing telemedicine as the DHCCA had reportedly licensed at least one hybrid telemedicine establishment. However, Latham understands that the DHCCA is now no longer licensing telemedicine establishments in the DHCC until the UAE government issues federal regulations that specifically govern telemedicine in the country. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the DHCCA is currently accepting applications from parties interested in practicing telemedicine in the DHCCA to determine if the practice can be permitted under an existing license category in the DHCC. The DHCCA will review such applications on a case-by-case basis.
One of the key drawbacks in practicing telemedicine in the UAE at this time is that it is unlikely that any of the three regulators will allow a healthcare provider to prescribe medication for patients without an in-person consultation.
- The HAAD Standards in Abu Dhabi strictly preclude licensed telemedicine practices in Abu Dhabi from prescribing medication.
- The DHA Regulations appear to be more ambiguous on this point. While the DHA Regulations prohibit a physician from prescribing any medication before conducting a physical examination of the patient, the regulations also provide that the preparation of medical prescriptions falls within the scope of teleconsultation services. A conservative reading of the DHA Regulations would suggest that prescribing medications is only permissible after a physical examination.
- Although there is no telemedicine regulatory framework in the DHCC, the hybrid telemedicine practice operating in the DHCC does not prescribe medication without an in-person consultation.
Entities looking to practise telemedicine in the UAE are advised to approach the relevant regulatory authorities and seek legal advice as soon as possible in order to ensure compliance with existing regulations.