The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new wave of Telemedicine practice in the United States, and with it came a whole new set of medical malpractice risks. Of course, Telemedicine had been available for years preceding the pandemic, but when stores and businesses were shut down, and people stayed home throughout 2020 – 2021, most turned to safer, more convenient, electronic, and virtual doctor’s appointments rather than going into the office or hospital. Although federal policy changes suddenly allowed the use of phone, video chats, Zoom, and Facebook Messenger, these new ways of “seeing” a doctor come with risks not associated with in-person office visits. Physicians, healthcare providers, and practice administrators need to know the risks and protect their practices against them with the right kind of medical malpractice insurance.
The traditional in-person office visits are not without risk, however, part of providing good patient care is seeing the patient face-to-face. There are many reasons for this, but mainly physicians want to see their patients to help build a relationship and to take vitals, listen to and examine them for symptoms. Telemedicine visits make this relationship more difficult.
What Exactly is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the use of technology that enables a healthcare provider to care for a patient without an in-person office visit. Telemedicine visits can be hosted through a phone call, a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer. The most common options are text messaging, talking on the phone, and video consultations through Facetime, Zoom, or other video chat services.
Is Telehealth the Same as Telemedicine?
Telehealth is a broad term encompassing telemedicine as well as types of remote patient monitoring, healthcare AI, and other health-related technologies, according to a report published by The Doctors Company, “Your Patient is Logging on Now: The Risks and Benefits of Telehealth in the Future of Healthcare.”
What Healthcare is Available Through Telemedicine?
The most common care is for recurring conditions that are easy to describe, discuss, and even see while on a video chat or phone call. These conditions include prescription management, mental health, coughs and colds, and follow-up after surgery.
What are the Benefits of Telemedicine?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, benefits include limited physical contact with others, healthcare from anywhere, less time off from work, and access to specialists not available in some areas. There are benefits for healthcare providers as well. They can see patients more efficiently, see patients that aren’t able to travel into the office, and enjoy a more robust practice by seeing patients both in and outside of the office.
Making sure your practice has the right medical malpractice insurance is imperative for any healthcare provider, but there are certain risks in Telehealth that not all insurance policies will cover. The main issue is licensing. Some insurance carriers require that physicians be licensed in the state where they practice as well as the states where their patients are located at the time of the Telehealth visit. It is important for healthcare providers to let their medical malpractice insurance carrier know if they are practicing Telemedicine and to notify them of the state or state their patients are in during the consultation. Some insurance carriers and policies have exclusions for Telemedicine. Find out if yours is one of these or if there are restrictions. Make sure your carrier knows exactly what you are doing, how many Telemedicine visits you are doing weekly, and that you have the correct licensing for the states in which you are working.
What are the Risks of Telemedicine?
The major risks include misdiagnosis or undiagnosed conditions, which often involve cancer. The physician-patient relationship can be more difficult through a phone or video visit, which increases the risk of a malpractice claim. There is a possibility that protected health information may get shared with the wrong person, or worse, stolen through hacking or the use of unsecured technology. These types of risks may cause HIPAA violations. Also, prescribing medication requires a physician-patient relationship. Will a Zoom meeting meet that requirement in the case of a malpractice claim? The future of healthcare has been changed by the increased use of Telemedicine, and physicians need to make sure their medical malpractice insurance is up to date.