Digital Health Regulations in Israel After COVID-19: What’s Changed and How to Navigate It 
Before December 2019, health organizations around the world had slowly begun plans for the digitization of medical records and the implementation of new telehealth service regulations. Creating digital health regulations from scratch that could be enforced not only across platforms but across country borders was proving to be a challenge. It became a process that was meandering at best and a convoluted disaster of bureaucracy at worst.
The spread of SARS-CoV-2 abruptly changed all of that. Governing bodies scrambled into action, having to accommodate preventive measures like lockdowns and social distancing drove the need for regulations in healthcare to go from philosophical to actionable in a matter of weeks. What was previously thought of as current trends in telemedicine had to be scrapped and quickly replaced with regulations affecting healthcare and reimbursement procedures which had to accommodate almost-daily new information about how the virus spread. Governments were left trying to balance how they could better protect their people and essential care workers against new technology, as well as the need for creating new regulations for telemedicine quickly and efficiently.
Data protection became an even higher concern due to the heavy usage of digital apps and services to care for patients. Software for both desktop and mobile operating systems now has to comply with strict privacy laws that could be specific for countries like the Israeli Data Security Regulations while also needing to navigate the nuanced areas of cross-country partnerships, like the European Union and GPDR or LGDP.
Navigating Regulations Affecting Healthcare and the New Need for Digital Mental Health Services
Before COVID-19, many countries had begun developing apps and ecosystems that allowed for a more digitized experience for healthcare. The need for digital health app development became a medium-but-growing priority for national budgets and governing bodies.
Israel was one of the first countries to recognize a need for the creation of a digital health ecosystem, having begun to digitize their patient records in 1995. In addition, Minister Yaakov Litzman understood the need for the creation of new telemedicine laws and regulations to help protect these uncharted waters. In March of 2018, the foundation of Digital Israel was established to create solutions for the challenges they knew telehealth applications would need to address such as:
- How could telemedicine development regulations be administered?
- How could privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality be secured?
- How could the continuity in services and reimbursements be handled?
- What updates to the current laws and regulations centered around health would need to be made? Specifically Israel’s National Health Insurance Act, Patient’s Right Act, and the National Insurance Act, none of which previously contained any precedent for the establishment of regulations on telemedicine and how telehealth insurance reimbursement should be handled.
But they were not the only country having to deal with this new frontier. The US and the countries of the EU also had to quickly create and enact laws for not only new telemedicine laws and regulations, but for how the technology would be created, and how the payment structures would be navigated.
This proved especially challenging for mental health practitioners, who had to navigate patient care in situations that might be dangerous for themselves or their patients. In a field where the standard interaction is in a “safe space” that is away from stress-causing environments, patient care was handled best face-to-face. When COVID-19 began to spread, suddenly mental health specialists had to create feelings of safety and care for their patients with Web Real-Time Communication or WebRTC.
WebRTC application development had its own challenges. Healthcare institutions that had to hire WebRTC developers found themselves in complicated push-and-pull scenarios where patient security, speed of launch, and reimbursement procedures all had to be accounted for.
Special Temporary Regulations Enacted for COVID-19
To help quickly combat the need to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Israel, the Ministry of Health enacted a number of temporary guidelines to address telehealth challenges and regulate data privacy.
- Service providers like hospitals and health funds were able to create extension agreements for the rendering of services to chronic patients. This included oncologists, hematologists, and dialysis patients who did not have a Form 17 ("Tofes Shva Esrei") payment voucher or a Tofes Hitchayvut, which is a letter decreeing financial obligations for the treatment of the patient will be covered by the health plan.
- Patients with a Form 17 had the ability to request telehealth in medicine and mental health services or opt to have in-person appointments. The addition of remote options allowed for more social distancing options, especially for patients who had compromised immune systems.
- Remote treatment options, so long as they abided by the Ministry’s telehealth service regulations, could be utilized by mental health clinics, as well.
- Rehabilitation daycare center workers were given the ability to work remotely, so long as patient communication was ongoing, and that instructions for parental guidance and treatment were recorded and maintained the strict confidentiality regulations set in place.
Israel Healthcare Regulations 2020 and Beyond: What Changes to Expect
Recent trends in telemedicine have had to balance against the need for strict telemedicine regulations that have left many in the telemedicine software development field wondering “What are healthcare regulations going to look like in the future and how can we anticipate those in future product releases?”
Healthcare providers across the world have seen the need for an effective telemedicine app development solution that can handle not only telemedicine rules and regulations but can also create a positive experience for both the patient and the provider.
Many governing bodies have tried to help by creating licensing regulations for digital health and the creation of new medical data protection laws. These telemedicine regulations have helped create a guide to address factors like telemedicine visit reimbursement, as well as the anticipation for the rollout of new healthcare regulations 2020 and beyond.
Luckily, experienced companies in the telemedicine development field have taken on the task of handling difficult and nuanced areas like telemedicine and reimbursement, coupled with data privacy and patient-provider accessibility. Softermii can help your company develop secure and safe applications that comply with strict regulations while providing an easy user experience for your patients and staff. Learn more about what we do here.