Telemedicine is not explicitly regulated under Turkish law. The existing legal framework, including the Medical Deontology By-law and Ethical Principles for Physicians, prohibits remote examination, diagnosis, and treatment of patients.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal gap in telemedicine became more serious as private hospitals especially started to provide online healthcare services to patients who could not visit healthcare centres due to the COVID-19 risk. The fact that the number of hospitals providing telemedicine services increased also attracted the Ministry’s attention. Accordingly, the Ministry prepared a highly anticipated Regulation on Remote Provision of Healthcare Services, published in the Official Gazette dated February 10, 2022, numbered 31746. The basis of the Regulation are Articles 9 and 11 of the Fundamental Law on Healthcare Services No. 3359 and Articles 335 and 508 of the Presidential Decree No. 1 on the Presidential Organization, which allows ministries to publish regulations within the scope of their authority.
The Ministry will develop or authorise a remote healthcare information system infrastructure, and healthcare centres will use healthcare information systems to enable written, voice or video communication. The developed remote healthcare information system infrastructure will be registered to the Ministry’s database. This will all be done under the Regulation on Remote Provision of Healthcare Services.
In accordance with the Regulation on Remote Provision of Healthcare Services, the healthcare centres that would like to provide remote healthcare services will need to obtain authorization by applying to the General Directorate of Healthcare Services (the “General Directorate”) with the required documents. The Ministry will issue an authorization certificate if the healthcare centre’s information system is registered in the Ministry’s database and its application is approved by the General Directorate. In addition, for healthcare centres affiliated with the Ministry, an authorization certificate for remote healthcare service may be issued by the Ministry ex officio.
Numerous activities may be conducted remotely, including examination, consultation, prescription, follow-up of parameters such as blood sugar and blood pressure, provision of services supporting a healthy life and psychosocial health, conducting invasive and surgical operations upon receiving approval from the Ministry, protection of people’s health during endemic and epidemic outbreaks, monitoring the health status of elderly and high-risk groups and people requesting monitoring of their health data via wearable technologies. Also, the healthcare centres authorized for international healthcare tourism may provide remote healthcare services internationally.
When providing remote healthcare services the physician must inform the patient of his/her expertise, the scope of the service, the differences between remote and applied healthcare services and data protection-related matters. The healthcare centres will be responsible for protecting patient privacy and health data within this framework. Accordingly, the healthcare centres must store and send the transactions and activities regarding remote healthcare services to the Ministry’s database.
The entry into force of this Regulation will lead to the beginning of a new era in the digitalization of the healthcare services industry in Turkey. There are criticisms that the Regulation on Remote Provision of Healthcare Services was prepared by the Ministry instead by parliament, contradicting the principle that constitutional rights such as the right to live and healthy living right can only be limited by law. The implementation of this Regulation remains unclear as the Ministry has still not published a guideline on how to standardize the technical infrastructure required for the provision of remote healthcare and the training to be provided to staff in healthcare centres providing services at different care levels. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that healthcare services will become more accessible, a crucial step for improving public health overall.