Advertising your services and products in the healthcare industry in Singapore can be tricky. While you want to let potential patients know about the conditions you treat and the services you provide, there are guidelines you need to adhere to.
So how does one go about both promoting your products while and remaining MOH compliant? We can help create a website tailored to your needs that still meets the requirements set for advertising within the healthcare industry.
What Are the Key Changes Under HCSA?
The Healthcare Services Act (HCSA) is intended to replace the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (PHMCA), which was last amended in 1999. The HCSA aims to safeguard patients’ well-being in the evolving healthcare industry while enabling the development of new and innovative services.
Below are the key changes to healthcare regulations under the HCSA:
Healthcare providers in Singapore will be licensed based on the form of services they provide. This is unlike the PHMCA, where licensing is based on the physical premises of the provider. Under the HCSA, licensing conditions are tailored to different types of healthcare services.
The healthcare services to be licensed will be grouped into six umbrella categories:
- Clinical Support Services
- Hospital Services
- Special Services
- Ambulatory Services
- Non-Premises Based Services
- Long Term Care Services
Healthcare providers can select up to 25 different licenses based on the suite of services they want to provide. These services can include basic hospital services, nursing home care, or non-premise based services, like ambulance services and telemedicine.
Each licensable healthcare service has required standards. These standards will be stipulated in their respective regulations.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) will be defining a list of allowable point-of-care-tests (POCT) in the regulations. This will allow selected licensees to provide simple diagnostic tests without the need for a separate clinical laboratory or radiological service licence.
Broadened Scope of Regulation
The scope of regulation will be broadened to keep up with advancements in medicine and health technologies. Services that will fall under the regulatory scope of HCSA include allied health and nursing services, traditional medicine, and complementary and alternative medicines.
These healthcare services do not require licensing at the moment. MOH will adopt a risk-based regulatory approach to determine if licences are necessary to provide such services.
Beauty and wellness services will not be covered in the scope of HCSA, as these services do not include the assessment, diagnosis, prevention, alleviation or treatment of either a medical condition or disorder.
Professionals, including physiotherapists and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, will continue to be regulated through existing Professional Acts to ensure patient safety. The HCSA will not affect the operation of such Professional Acts.
Refined Roles and Responsibilities of Key Personnel
In addition to the licensee, governance and oversight of healthcare services will be strengthened with the appointment of the Principal Officer (PO) and the Clinical Governance Officer (CGO).
POs will be made compulsory for all licensees. Their enhanced responsibilities include overseeing the daily operations of licensees and ensuring operational compliance with the HCSA.
Appointing a CGO will be required for selected licensees that provide more complex healthcare services. For example, assisted reproduction services and clinical genetic and genomic services. CGOs will also be responsible for the clinical and technical oversight of these healthcare services. The CGOs’ qualifications will be tailored to each selected licence.
Under the new legislation, an individual can serve as the licensee, PO, and CGO provided that the individual can fulfil all relevant requirements and perform all roles adequately.
Committees to Ensure Clinical Governance
The PHMCA requirements for Quality Assurance Committees (QACs) for selected licensees will remain. The QACs’ role involves monitoring the quality of care within healthcare service.
A qualified and competent individual will be designated to oversee and enhance quality assurance processes in licensed services. The same individual will be permitted to serve as on QACs in different institutions to facilitate cross-institutional learning.
Service Review Committees (SRCs) will be instituted for selected services or programs deemed more complex, higher-risk, or of greater public interest. The SRCs will review utilisation patterns and effectiveness, identify risks and benefits of such services, and make recommendations to the licensee.
MOH’s “Step-In” Powers
Under a new provision in HCSA, MOH will be empowered to “step in” and assist in the operations of failing healthcare services if deemed necessary. It will protect patients against abrupt discontinuation of residential care services.
The “step-in” power is a transitional measure until patients can be transferred to other healthcare service providers. This power will be exercised as a last resort after alternative efforts have failed. There will also be an appeal mechanism for licensees aggrieved by the step-in decision.
Powers to Obtain and Publish Information
Existing PHMCA powers will be enhanced under the HCSA allowing MOH to better monitor patient safety, care and welfare, and public health interest. This may include national surveillance to prevent public health emergencies and safety monitoring for newer services.
MOH will also be empowered to publish information about non-compliant licensees and unlicensed providers to improve public awareness and enable patients to make informed decisions.
There will be provisions to impose restrictions on staff employment in healthcare services to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable patients. Background checks will be conducted on employees working with vulnerable patient groups, such as long-term residential care or the Institute of Mental Health.
Naming, Advertising, and Co-Location Restrictions
Naming and advertising restrictions will be amended to minimise public misperception and help patients make informed decisions. Licensees will be prohibited from using terms that connote a national body, for example, ‘National’ or ‘Singapore’. Additionally, licensees will be banned from using names of services that they are not licensed for.
The HCSA also places restrictions on providing licensable healthcare services together with other unrelated or unlicensed services at a premise or a conveyance.
Am I Allowed to Advertise My Services and Products Under the Health Care Services Act?
What Forms of Advertisements Are Allowed?
Licensees of healthcare institutions can display their services in newspapers, magazines, directories, medical journals, brochures, leaflets, pamphlets, and the Internet.
All other advertising forms are not allowed, such as SMS text messaging, television screens, billboards, light boxes, digital media boxes, LCD / LED panels, banners, and posters.
Is My Clinic Allowed to Engage the Services of Bloggers?
HCSA licensees may engage the professional services of advertising companies or third parties to publicise information on their services.
However, it is the licensee’s responsibility to ensure that all their advertisements comply with the provisions of the Advertisement Regulations.
Can My Clinic Run Promotions or Advertise Discounted Prices on Services?
Under the MOH’s guidelines, advertisements must not provide information soliciting or encouraging the use of the healthcare institution’s services. Examples of this information include “promotions”, which refer to healthcare institutions’ free or discounted services.
They also include the use of the following terms or phrases:
- “As low as” and “Lowest prices” when describing the price of healthcare services
- Preferential prices for healthcare institutions’ services with a “validity period.”
- Words or phrases like “discount”, “interest free”, “preferential rate”, “promotion”, “offer”, “complimentary”, or “free”
- Giveaways, lucky draws, prizes, gifts, and/or freebies, whether related or otherwise to healthcare services.
Is My Clinic Allowed to Have Patient Testimonials?
HCSA licensees must not display, publish, or disseminate advertisements containing any testimonial or endorsement about their services. However, patient testimonials and endorsements are allowed if they are:
- Within the premises where the services are provided
- On the clinic’s website or social media accounts
- Given by the person directly to the licensee and is not reproduced by the licensee.