Beijing issues draft rules for AI prescriptions and telemedicine

Science & Health

Beijing city authorities have issued new draft rules to govern online medical consultations and the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare: AI will not be allowed to prescribe drugs without human supervision.

Her job is safe for now: A cardiovascular physician shares the results of an imaging examination with a patient's family, August 18, 2023, Chongqing, China. Photo by Costfoto/NurPhoto via Reuters.

Beijing’s municipal government plans to restrict the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the healthcare sector, according to a report yesterday by the Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party’s Beijing branch.

The focus of the new rules drafted by the Beijing Municipal Health Commission is on telemedicine (or online consultation), the use of AI to generate prescriptions, and on the protection of the roles of doctors “to provide diagnosis and treatment services.”

The Chinese health care system has been plagued by corruption, especially when it comes to prescriptions. Drug firms have been caught offering bribes and incentives for doctors and hospitals to prescribe their products, while health care organizations depend on the sale of medicines to remain commercially viable.

Chinese authorities have recently stepped up a sweeping anti-corruption campaign in the healthcare sector, in a bid to clean up a history of dubious ties between pharmaceutical companies, hospital chiefs, doctors, and other services in the industry.

Beijing’s new AI medicine rules “strictly prohibit” the use of AI to automatically generate online medical prescriptions without human supervision. Other provisions include:

  • Doctors who offer online diagnosis must have practiced clinical medicine for at least three years. They must also register with their real names before seeing patients online.
  • Patients are also required to identify themselves formally, and provide medical histories.
  • Patients may not seek online diagnoses and prescriptions on behalf of other people; doctors must refer patients to physical clinics if there are any suspicions.
  • Medical records of online consultations need to be kept for at least 15 years, and documentation of the process of diagnosis, including audio and video records, must be kept for at least three years.
  • Internet medical services are required to clearly publicize their prices.

The Beijing Health Commission will also establish an “internet diagnosis and treatment supervision platform” to regulate and monitor medical institutions that offer telemedicine.

The commission is seeking public feedback on the draft rules until September 16. If the rules are adopted, they could set a precedent for other local health authorities or the National Health Commission to implement similar laws.

The rules will add to a body of laws and regulations that China is implementing to govern the use of AI, including the most recent rules on ChatGPT-type generative AI.