Provision of Health-care Service over the Internet – the Legality of E-consultations in Estonia
The number of Web sites providing medical consultations is growing constantly. They offer common information and advice, patient education, and general and individualised consulting. In certain cases wherein Web sites offer consultations, the service is subject to the same legal regulation as conventional health-care provision. The article discusses when consulting via the Internet (i.e., e-consulting) can be considered provision of health-care service and which requirements it has to meet if so. The author concludes that what matters here is not how service providers present their service but whether the essence of e-consultation corresponds to the definition of a health-care service – if it does, e-consultation has to be considered one. Among the obstacles in providing e-consultations is fulfilling the requirement of having consultation premises at the time of applying for the necessary permit. Health-care providers are required to have a physical location where they can provide the services.
Also addressed in the article is e-consultation as information-society service. It is concluded that if this is an intermediary service, then – if the design of the service so indicates – legal regulations applicable to health-care service provision do not apply. The author finds that, in general, e-consultations are possible and legitimate in the current legal framework.