Telemedicine is a product of 20th century information and communication technologies. It is generally defined as the provision of healthcare services from a healthcare professional to a patient from a remote location using a telephone or the internet. International and local health providers are increasingly looking to provide telemedicine services in the region, specifically in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC). The regulation of telemedicine in the UAE, to date, has been inconsistent and needs to be further developed in order to catch up with developments in medical technology.
Federal Regulatory Landscape
In order to market healthcare services in the UAE, a healthcare provider must establish a legal presence and hold a commercial licence to do business in the UAE (or in a free zone in the UAE) and also hold the relevant healthcare provider licence. The authorities that regulate the licensing of healthcare in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Dubai Healthcare City are: Abu Dhabi Health Authority (HAAD), Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Dubai Healthcare City Authority (DHCCA), respectively.
Abu Dhabi has a sophisticated regulatory regime for telemedicine and has issued a telemedicine licence to the Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre. However, telemedicine licensing has been suspended in Abu Dhabi for the time being and it is not known if or when such suspension will be lifted.
If the suspension were lifted, a healthcare facility wishing to provide tele-consultation services and be based in Abu Dhabi would need to be a HAAD licensed healthcare facility specifically licenced to provide tele-consultation, or an existing HAAD licenced facility that is authorised by HAAD to provide tele-consultation.
The DHA regulations do not address the practice of telemedicine in Dubai, with the exception of providing for teleradiology services, and the DHA is not issuing licences to practise telemedicine at this time.
Dubai Healthcare City
The DHCC appears to be taking the lead in the region for the development of telemedicine and one telemedicine establishment licensed by DHCCA has been operating in DHCC for four years.
The DHCCA licences telemedicine to entities operating as outpatient clinics. An entity in the DHCC can take the form of a free zone limited liability company, a branch of a foreign company, or a branch of a UAE company. An advantage of practising telemedicine in DHCC is that because it is a free zone there are no national restrictions on foreign companies wishing to establish a legal presence in DHCC.
One of the key drawbacks in practising tele-medicine in the UAE at this time is that it is unlikely that any regulator 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. Although there is no regulation precluding prescribing medication in Dubai, we understand that the telemedicine practice operating in DHCC does not prescribe medication without an in-person consultation.