Legal landscape struggles to keep pace with the rise of Telemedicine

07-07-2016

Author: Colin Kavanagh, Orla Keane, Ciara Farrell and Olivia Mullooly



Telemedicine encompasses a wide variety of services such as teleconsultation, telemonitoring and telesurgery. Telemedicine can also include remote consultation/e-visits or video conferences between health professionals and can be delivered through various forms of IT systems including mobile phone apps. It is this complexity in delivery that causes headaches for the legal landscape due to the interplay between the regulation of healthcare services, medical devices, intellectual property and data protection when offering telemedicine services.

Definition and Scope of Telemedicine

The nature and scope of telemedicine can be somewhat difficult to define. At present, most European Union Member States have not adopted legal instruments specifically regulating telemedicine, including Ireland. Therefore, there is no legal definition of telemedicine in Ireland. The European Commission defines telemedicine as “the provision of healthcare services, through the use of ICT, in situations where the health professional and the patient (or two health professionals) are not in the same location. It involves secure transmission of medical data and information, through text, sound, images or other forms needed for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of patients”.1 The Irish Health Service Executive and the Department of Health have published similar definitions.2 It is worth noting that phrases such as “telemedicine” “eHealth”, “telehealth”, “telecare”, and “connected health” are all used interchangeably in this context. This has only added to the uncertainty surrounding the scope and nature of telemedicine services.

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