On June 21, 2016, the State Council of the People's Republic
of China issued a circular titled Opinions on Promoting and
Standardizing the Application and Development of Health Care and
Medical Big Data ("Opinions"). The Opinions state
that China aims to promulgate a regulatory framework for sharing
and protecting health care and big data and to establish a
cross-department data-sharing structure by the end of 2017. In
addition, industry insiders believe that China might eventually
lift the ban on online sales of prescription drugs in 2018.
The Opinions state that China will accelerate the establishment and
consummation of a database that centers on electronic health
records, medical records, and prescriptions; opening up the
channels for data sharing and building such a data-sharing platform
will have a profound impact on the digital health and telemedicine
industry. Under the current structure of China's health care
industry, hospitals hold most prescription information, and
prescriptions can be issued only by licensed pharmacists. Selling
prescription medicine has long been a "forbidden zone,"
beyond the reach of most telemedicine operators. According to the
draft Measures Regarding the Administration of Drug Information
Service over the Internet ("Draft") issued by the
China Food and Drug Administration in 2014, telemedicine operators
can sell prescription drugs by prescription only under the rules
governing medicine classification. While the Draft is viewed by the
industry as the legal authorization for selling prescription drugs
online, the industry has failed to see a breakthrough since
The Opinions could be a green light to the industry to authorize
selling prescription drugs online. The sharing of electronic
prescriptions, if accomplished, would make it possible to release
hospitals' prescription information to qualified recipients.
This will benefit the digital health and telemedicine industry
tremendously. How the Opinions would be implemented is unclear and
remains to be seen.
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