Understanding Telehealth and the Risks of Medical Malpractice
Telehealth practices can be tremendously helpful for patients who live in remote areas far from doctors. Telehealth can also protect healthcare providers and patients from exposure to infectious diseases. But telehealth benefits are probably outweighed by risks in many situations.
What Constitutes Telehealth
The terms telehealth and telemedicine are used to refer to a variety of practices. Essentially, any time a doctor or medical professional provides care without seeing you in the office in person, that constitutes a telehealth visit.
- Discussions with a care provider live through a video chat or phone call
- Using secure messaging systems to send information to and receive messages from healthcare providers
- Using monitoring devices that allow providers to check on a patient’s condition remotely
Healthcare providers currently offer a wide range of services through telehealth, and these are expected to increase in the future. Telehealth options have long been used to share the results of x-rays and lab tests. Doctors have also used telehealth methods to monitor or prescribe medications for recurring conditions such as urinary tract infections, skin conditions, and migraine headaches. Telehealth has provided an easy way to check in on patients after surgery.
Increasingly, telehealth methods are now being used to diagnose and treat urgent care issues such as coughs and stomach ailments. Patients now frequently receive a wide variety of therapy through telehealth methods. This includes mental health treatment, medication management, and physical and occupational therapy sessions.
Use of Telehealth is Likely to Increase
Concerns of exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a huge increase in telehealth visits. This increase is not likely to fade away as concerns over the virus decrease. This is largely due to cost issues.
Doctors can treat many more patients in a day through telehealth visits, and their office overhead is reduced. This reduces costs for insurance companies as well. The benefits for providers and insurers give them the incentive to reduce the availability of providers for live in-office visits. Insurers may make it much more difficult to get an appointment for an in-person visit and much more costly for those who are able to obtain appointments.
Doctors Making Decisions with Limited Information
One of the biggest problems for patients being treated through telehealth methods is that doctors are limited in the amount of information they can acquire before making decisions about diagnosis and treatment. Instead of basing decisions on all available information, they must decide based on information available through a screen. They cannot palpate a patient’s abdomen, for instance, to detect the site of tenderness or feel for an abdominal mass when a patient has a stomachache.
Although the doctor can see and hear the patient in a telehealth visit, the delays and limitations in quality severely limit the amount of useful information that can be gained. Moreover, patients frequently unnaturally limit what they say when speaking into a device rather than conversing in person. Critical details may not be shared with providers, and they miss nuances that clue them into potential problems.
Doctors need to understand when they lack the information to make a decision in their patient’s best interests. Failure to advise patients to come in for an in-person exam or test could potentially lead to claims of malpractice.
Claims Against Telehealth Providers in Florida
Florida law requires telehealth providers to practice according to the same “prevailing professional standard of practice” used by professionals providing in-person care. This sets a standard to protect patients. The law also requires telehealth providers to carry professional liability coverage “or maintain “financial responsibility.”
Unfortunately, the insurance requirement may not be enforced, and the law also allows out-of-state doctors to register to provide telehealth services to patients in Florida. Attorneys trying to help patients with telehealth medical malpractice claims may need to understand how to reach assets available beyond insurance in order to protect clients fully.
Understanding Malpractice in Florida
In a Florida medical malpractice case, an injured patient must prove that the healthcare provider breached the prevailing standard of care. The court looks at the level of care that would be accepted as appropriate by other “reasonably prudent” healthcare providers under similar circumstances.
Many different types of medical errors can give rise to a claim for malpractice. Some of these, such as surgical errors, will not generally apply in a telehealth case. Malpractice claims can also be based on:
- Improper reading of test results
- Prescribing the wrong type or dose of medication
- Failure to diagnose a condition
- Not providing sufficient aftercare
- Failure to gather sufficient patient history to provide an informed decision
As an example of when a telehealth visit can provide grounds for a valid malpractice claim, some physicians refer to the case of a patient who had initially been treated in the emergency room for an ankle injury. When he contacted a telehealth doctor three weeks later about swelling in his leg, the doctor told him to see an orthopedic surgeon within 24 hours. However, the patient went into cardiac arrest and died soon after the telehealth visit. The patient’s family sued for failure to diagnose and treat deep vein thrombosis, and the case settled out of court.
Knowledgeable Attorneys Can Help Those Suffering from Telehealth Malpractice
Telehealth offers many benefits and the increasing trend toward virtual medical practice is expected to increase over time. However, patients need to be aware of the risks to protect themselves.
All patients are entitled to medical care that meets prevailing standards regardless of whether they receive care in a doctor’s office or over their cell phones. If you or a loved one suffered harm caused by a medical error, you may be entitled to receive compensation to offset the pain, suffering, and other effects.