China will strengthen its management of Internet-based medical services by shutting down online "clinics", according to the Ministry of Health.
The ministry said that from the beginning of this year, online diagnosis and treatment sites are forbidden and only health counseling will be offered on the Internet.
Online, long-distance medical consultations about difficult diseases among legal hospitals will still be permitted.
Online health information services will be allowed to cover disease prevention, body-building and health education, said the regulation which aims to strengthen the management of online health information services.
Information provided by these websites must be reliable, scientific, and abide by related laws and regulations.
Sex and sexually transmitted diseases have become a key focus of many current websites, which contain much unreliable and unscientific information.
The information service is to be divided into two categories: profit-making and non-profit-making.
All future websites hoping to provide health services must apply for official permission from the ministry and its branches, as will existing health sites.
Without the permission of the ministry, a health website will be forbidden to include words such as "China" or "All-China" in the title of their website.
Any violators of the regulation will be forced to correct their mistakes or shut down.
The exact number of online clinics offering health diagnosis and treatment advice in China now is not available.
Medical experts warn that most of the medical services offered by health websites are not worth believing, for the simple reason that Internet users do not know whether the online doctors quoted are qualified or not.
The majority of online doctors offer advice to patients through e-mail and chat rooms.
The supervision of online diagnosis is very difficult and the rights of patients, and even doctors, can not be well protected, analysts say.
Xu Xiangtian, an expert with a website specializing in gallbladder and liver diseases named "www.clear.com.cn" based in Linyi City, Shandong Province, said that the diagnosis service offered by the two-year-old website is not popular as most people are reluctant to put their faith in it.
He also admitted that diagnosis and treatment, which must be taken seriously, should be carried out by hospitals alone.
However, official statistics indicate that hundreds of people find the best hospitals for the treatment of their diseases through searching on the Internet.
(China Daily 02/06/2001)