Subject: health services, information technology

Overview of telehealth services

Development in Hong Kong

Development in Singapore

  • In Singapore, the government has taken the lead in guiding the development of telehealth services since the mid-2010s. It aims to improve the access to and quality of healthcare services amid the challenges brought by an ageing population and increasing burden of non-communicable diseases. Following a holistic and coordinated approach, the Singaporean government has enhanced the regulatory framework of the healthcare sector to cover telehealth services and facilitate the development of innovative telehealth solutions. It has also put in place facilitation measures to boost the adoption of telehealth services among healthcare professionals and patients.

Regulatory framework

Free e-training course

  • MOH has introduced a free e-training course for medical professionals to guide them on designing and delivering telehealth services so as to ensure patient safety and welfare. As at April 2020, 955 medical professionals had reportedly completed the course.23Legend symbol denoting See The Straits Times (2020).

Facilitation measures during the COVID-19 pandemic

Concluding remarks

  • Telehealth services offer the potential benefits of enhancing the access to and quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of healthcare services. They also serve as a plausible solution for easing the growing demand for healthcare services brought by population ageing and disease outbreaks. The development of telehealth services in Hong Kong has been slow before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Despite the recent growth in usage of teleconsultations amidst the pandemic, the long-term development of telehealth services may require the Government to step up efforts on various fronts. These include laying down a clearer regulatory framework and guidelines on the applications of technology in the healthcare sector, encouraging service providers to develop innovative solutions, and boosting adoption of the solutions among healthcare professionals and patients.
  • In comparison, Singapore has been progressive in leading the development of telehealth services since the mid-2010s Guided by a clear direction and comprehensive regulatory framework, the government has set out clear guidelines on the appropriate delivery of telehealth services, made use of regulatory sandbox for testing innovative service solutions, and refined the regulatory regime of the healthcare sector to cover telehealth services. Furthermore, the government has provided incentives to the healthcare service providers and patients for adopting new telehealth services.

Prepared by Ivy CHENG
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
21 January 2021


1.The term "telehealth" has been used interchangeably with other terms such as "eHealth" and "telemedicine" by healthcare authorities around the world. These terms may have similar or slightly different definitions depending on the applications of ICT in the healthcare sector and scope of services offered in the respective places. For simplicity, the term "telehealth" is used throughout this Essentials.

2.See NEJM Catalyst (2018).

3.See Health Advances (2020).

4.See World Health Organization (2016).

5.See Hong Kong Economic Journal (2020).

6.See World Health Organization (2016).

7.See Health Advances (2020).

8.See Australian Government Department of Health (2014).

9.See NHS (undated).

10.Places around the world have achieved varying levels of success in telehealth services development. Some are lagging behind due to limitations such as a lack of funding support and trained workforce, and inadequacies of the ICT infrastructure and the regulatory framework to facilitate telehealth services development. See World Health Organization (2016).

11.Some academic research studies showed minimal experience of using the services by the patients studied. These patients were willing to accept the services to improve accessibility to healthcare if their concerns towards safety, security and communication were addressed. See Hui, E. (2008) and Kung, K. et al. (2016).

12.See Food and Health Bureau (2020).

13.See Hong Kong Economic Journal (2020) and South China Morning Post (2020c).

14.See Lingnan University (2020).

15."Telemedicine" in the context of the "Ethical Guidelines on Practice of Telemedicine" refers to a wide spectrum of telehealth services including teleconsultation, telemonitoring, and disseminating service information and/or health education to the public through telecommunication systems. See The Medical Council of Hong Kong (2019).

16.See Hong Kong Trade Development Council (2020), Mayer Brown (2020) and South China Morning Post (2020a).

17.See Food and Health Bureau (2019) and GovHK (2020).

18.See Health Advances (2020), Hong Kong Trade Development Council (2020) and South China Morning Post (2020b).

19.The Guidelines categorize telehealth services into four domains, namely: (a) tele-collaboration of on-site and remote healthcare professionals; (b) tele-treatment involving interactions of remote healthcare professionals with patients or carers; (c) tele-monitoring of biomedical and other data of patients; and (d) tele-support of patients or carers through online services. The Guidelines mainly govern the first three domains of telehealth services that involve clinical applications of ICT. See Ministry of Health (2015).

20.A regulatory sandbox is a framework set up by the regulatory authority of a specific sector to allow small scale, live testing of innovations by private firms in a controlled environment (e.g. operating under a special exemption or other limited, time-bound exceptions). The concept has first been applied in the financial sector for encouraging development of innovative financial services using new technology. See CGAP (2017).

21.See Frontiers (2020).

22.The Healthcare Services Act, to be put into effect in 2021, adopts a service-based licensing approach in regulating healthcare service providers in contrast to the existing premises-based licensing approach to cater for emergence of new and innovative services such as telehealth services in the healthcare sector.

23.See The Straits Times (2020).

24.Under the Community Health Assist Scheme, all Singapore citizens are provided with subsidies for medical and/or dental care at participating general practitioner and dental clinics. The amount of subsidy provided is tiered according to the household income of the citizens or the estimated annual rent of their home for households with no income.

25.The MediSave scheme is a national medical savings scheme which helps members of the Central Provident Fund scheme put aside part of their income to meet the future medical expenses of themselves and their dependents.


Hong Kong

1.Food and Health Bureau. (2019) 2019 Policy Address - Policy Initiatives of the Food and Health Bureau. LC Paper No. CB(2)13/19-20(01).

2.Food and Health Bureau. (2020) Response to the issues raised in the letter dated 15 April 2020 from Dr Hon KWOK Ka-ki. LC Paper No. CB(2)856/19-20(01).

3.GovHK. (2020) Hospital Authority welcomes Policy Address. 25 November.

4.Hong Kong Economic Journal. (2020) The pandemic helps promote development of telemedicine in HK. 7 May.

5.Hong Kong Trade Development Council. (2020) The Post-Covid New Normal: The Rise of Telemedicine.

6.Hui, E. (2008) Telemedicine & Tele-rehabilitation in Elderly Care.

7.Kung, K. et al. (2016) An exploratory qualitative study on patients' views of medical e-consultation in a public primary care setting. Hong Kong Practitioner, vol. 38 no. 4, pp. 120-127.

8.Lingnan University. (2020) Survey finds over 60% senior citizens are willing to try online medical consultations.

9.Mayer Brown. (2020) Telemedicine - Necessity Is the Mother Of Adoption - But Barriers Remain.

10.MIMS. (2020) Telemedicine in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.

11.The Medical Council of Hong Kong. (2019) The Medical Council of Hong Kong Ethical Guidelines on Practice of Telemedicine.

12.South China Morning Post. (2020a) Coronavirus crisis puts 'telemedicine' back in the picture for long-time advocates in Hong Kong but others warn of pitfalls. 17 March.

13.South China Morning Post. (2020b) Government should embrace innovation in health care sector, industry members say at 'Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series'. 15 January.

14.South China Morning Post. (2020c) The limits of telemedicine: on the rise amid coronavirus pandemic, doctors expect it to continue, but as adjunct to face-to-face consultations. 2 May.


15.CNA. (2018) MOH launches regulatory sandbox to support development of telemedicine. 18 April.

16.Infocomm Media Development Authority. (2020) Healthcare And Education SMEs To Receive More Support for Digitalisation.

17.Lexology. (2020) Singapore's Telehealth Expansion: Considerations for Providers.

18.Ministry of Health. (2015) National Telemedicine Guidelines.

19.Ministry of Health. (2018) MOH Launches First Regulatory Sandbox to Support Development of Telemedicine.

20.Ministry of Health. (2019) Licensing Experimentation and Adaptation Programme (LEAP) - A MOH Regulatory Sandbox.

21.Ministry of Health. (2020) Time-limited extension of CHAS subsidy and use of MediSave for follow up of chronic conditions through video consultations in view of COVID-19.

22.Rajah & Tann Asia. (2020) Telemedicine before, during and after COVID-19: Key Considerations and Issues.

23.The Straits Times. (2020) Coronavirus: More doctors attending to patients through video call. 4 May.


24.Australian Government Department of Health. (2014) Telehealth Pilots Programme.

25.CGAP. (2017) Working Paper - Regulatory Sandboxes and Financial Inclusion.

26.Eurisy. (2020) The strengthening of the health sector after the COVID-19 outbreak.

27.Frontiers. (2020) Telemedicine Across the Globe - Position Paper From the COVID-19 Pandemic Health System Resilience Program (Reprogram) International Consortium (Part 1).

28.Health Advances. (2020) Digital Health and the Global Pandemic - The Opportunities and Challenges for Virtual Care Worldwide.

29.NEJM Catalyst. (2018) What is Telehealth?

30.NHS. (undated) Technology Enabled Care Services (TECS).

31.World Health Organization. (2016) Global diffusion of eHealth: Making universal health coverage achievable.

Essentials are compiled for Members and Committees of the Legislative Council. They are not legal or other professional advice and shall not be relied on as such. Essentials are subject to copyright owned by The Legislative Council Commission (The Commission). The Commission permits accurate reproduction of Essentials for non-commercial use in a manner not adversely affecting the Legislative Council. Please refer to the Disclaimer and Copyright Notice on the Legislative Council website at for details. The paper number of this issue of Essentials is ISE14/20-21.