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Virtual Appointments and Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice

The rise of telehealth is one of the biggest changes that the world of modern medicine has seen in recent years. Virtual appointments and treatment sessions are increasingly common, making it significantly easier for people to get the healthcare services they need.

Yet, the risk of mistakes, errors and just plain negligence that comes with any medical treatment remains when doctors and patients go virtual. In fact, not being in the same room may even boost the chance of a misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis or other mishaps.

At Searcy Denney, our lawyers help people and families in West Palm Beach and across the country who have been injured by medical malpractice. We combine four decades of experience in these and other injury cases and a track record of successful results.

Telemedicine on the Rise

Virtual medical appointments were already increasing rapidly when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, making telemedicine the only viable option for many people and their doctors across the country.

Nearly one-third (32%) of all doctor office and outpatient visits occurred via telehealth in the first month after the pandemic was declared in the U.S., according to research from McKinsey. The use of virtual appointments is about 38 times more frequent now than before the pandemic.

People ages 20 to 39 are most likely to utilize virtual medical appointments, with nearly 40% of patients opting for telehealth. Older patients – those 65 and older – are least likely to take the option, with less than 25% utilizing telemedicine.

As the pandemic subsides, the telehealth boom is likely here to stay. Doctors and their patients have now become accustomed to virtual appointments. The scheduling flexibility it affords will make virtual appointments attractive to many people as they return to their daily lives.

Telemedicine Risks

Virtual appointments certainly offer a new level of convenience and allow doctors and medical professionals to reach people in remote areas that often go underserved. 

They are not a cure-all, however. The unfortunate fact is that doctors can and do make mistakes. When these errors happen, they can have devastating and life-changing consequences for the patient and his or her family.

Many of the most common and harmful forms of medical malpractice happen in person. Surgical and treatment errors happen far too frequently and mishaps regarding prescriptions and the administration of medication have been happening since long before doctors and patients began meeting online.

But there is also reason to believe that the risk of a delayed diagnosis or missed diagnosis is heightened in a virtual setting. Medical malpractice claims stemming from online appointments most frequently center on allegations that a doctor failed to properly identify an injury, ailment or medical condition.

Very few medical professionals have been formally trained in telemedicine. Learning on the fly increases the risk for patients.

The problem for doctors and their patients is that a telehealth session may give the medical professional a misleading or incomplete picture of the situation. That is at least in part because the doctor does not have the ability to observe the patient up close and in person. The doctor may very well miss non-verbal clues and behavior that may help shine a light on what is going on with a patient. Instead, he or she is forced to rely on information about the symptoms from the patient.

That is not to mention possible tech glitches that can impact the quality of the communication between doctor and patient. Whether it is video hiccups or shoddy audio, substandard technology further limits the quality of the information shared. That makes it harder for doctors to accurately identify health issues the first time around.

Unfortunately, time is often of the essence. The sooner that a medical professional correctly diagnoses a condition, the sooner he or she can begin to treat the condition. Delays allow health problems to potentially get worse, requiring more extensive treatment to eventually address them. Meanwhile, a misdiagnosis can cause additional harm by subjecting a patient to medication that he or she does not need.

Suing for Medical Malpractice

Anyone who has been injured as a result of a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis in Florida has the right to seek compensation from those responsible. That includes not only the doctor involved but also his or her employer and potentially the hospital or facility with which the doctor is affiliated.

The compensation available in these cases typically includes money for medical bills stemming from the mistake, whether that is for additional treatment through medication and surgery, switching to a new doctor, or therapy and rehabilitation services. Compensation is also often available for missed wages during recuperation and any long-term impact of the mistake on the person’s ability to earn an income.

To be sure, medical mistakes can and do happen. Not all of them rise to the level of malpractice.

To prove medical malpractice in Florida, you have to be able to establish that the doctor who wrongly diagnosed you did not live up to a certain standard of care under state law. That standard generally is the level of skill, care, and treatment recognized as reasonable, appropriate and acceptable by other similar prudent healthcare providers.

It is not entirely clear whether Florida courts will apply a different standard in telemedicine misdiagnosis cases than in those stemming from in-person treatment. Nevertheless, doctors and medical professionals are expected to understand the limits of virtual appointments and take certain steps to reduce the risk of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

You also have to be able to detail the full extent of the impact of the mistake. That means specifically showing how a wrong or delayed diagnosis made things worse. 

Speak with a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a virtual appointment gone wrong, the medical malpractice lawyers at Searcy Denney can help.

Our offices are conveniently located in West Palm Beach, Tampa and Tallahassee. Call us at 800-780-8607 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with an injury lawyer today.

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