Risks Involved in Telehealth

Updated on May 10, 2022

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, involves delivering healthcare services via interactive video for diagnosis, consultation, or treatment. Though telemedicine is not new, the number of individuals in the United States who have used it has risen since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

With today’s busy schedules and lifestyle, symptoms, many people choose telemedicine.  This cuts down on wait time and the risk of possibly worsening symptoms.

While telehealth saves time, there is the obvious drawback of giving medical care in a method that prevents doctors from personally examining patients. As a result, there is a higher risk that the doctor will misdiagnose the patient. 

How Does Telehealth Work and Why Do People Go For It?

Seeing a doctor can take up a lot of one’s time especially if one resides in a remote location. Additionally, going to the doctor puts you in danger of contracting ailments from other patients around you. The goal of telehealth is to address these issues. 

Those who use telehealth medicine may no longer need to visit urgent care or walk-in clinics to see a doctor. Instead, telemedicine allows patients to receive instant medical care without leaving their homes.

The approach involves connecting patients’ lives with doctors via conferencing technologies. Patients communicate their symptoms to doctors via a computer or smartphone screen, and the doctor determines the best course of treatment. The patient may then receive a diagnosis over the phone or by computer.

Doctors can even administer medication via telehealth without examining the patient. Doctors may utilize their computer system to send prescriptions to the pharmacy; the patient will then pick them up later. In most situations, telemedicine is for patients with relatively minor conditions. 

Risks that come with Telehealth 

Using telemedicine to replace an in-person doctor visit has its drawbacks. If handled incorrectly or carelessly, it poses a high risk of significant injuries, worsening of the patient’s condition, and medical malpractice lawsuits against the providers.

#1. Misdiagnosis and Malpractice Lawsuit Risk 

The difficulty of virtual examinations, evaluating diagnoses, talking with the patient, and the loss of situational cues are the risks associated with telehealth. According to CRICO, two-thirds of telehealth-related claims filed from 2014 to 2018 had a link to diagnosis.

In contrast to an in-person clinical visit, telehealth doctors must rely on a patient narrative and interpretation of their symptoms.  Without the advantage of testing or a hands-on physical examination, you could risk a misdiagnosis. The consequences of this could result in a malpractice lawsuit against the health provider.

#2. IT and Security Risks

Telehealth has its own set of technological risks. A single breach puts the patient’s privacy at risk.  It can also shut down the entire practice and network, causing massive business disruption. It opens the doctor up to possible lawsuits from patients who claim they were harmed by a delay in treatment, or that their privacy rights were violated.

Mitigating Telehealth Risks

Mitigating risk in telehealth will go a long way toward preventing medical complications among patients and saving health care providers from several penalties. The following are some strategies for reducing these risks:

#1. Mitigating Privacy Protection Risk

Rules and laws for privacy protection should be familiar to healthcare providers that use telehealth. Privacy protection begins with recognizing and understanding the state and federal privacy rules for privacy protection. They should be watchful of patient confidentiality, which includes written documentation. 

The providers should also ensure that their software platforms have encryption, cybersecurity, and other protections that conform with federal and state privacy laws. The laws protecting patient privacy include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), and the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The reason for this is to ensure that third parties do not steal data by accident or on purpose. However, if there is a data theft, health care providers must have a breach response plan in place. Breach response is necessary to comply with local, state, and maybe federal rules for breach notification; having a breach response plan can help you avoid penalties or liability.

#2. Mitigating Misdiagnosis Risk and Malpractice Lawsuit

In many cases, virtual consultation does not produce enough information, especially when the patient may have a severe medical condition or a history of underlying medical issues. In this case, the Telehealth providers should document the lack of information and insist on an in-person appointment for a more detailed diagnosis. 

When establishing a new diagnosis or being presented with a new symptom or health concern, telehealth providers must be aware of possible lawsuits. They should collaborate with an expert medical malpractice attorney to develop policies and procedures that follow the American Telemedicine Association’s recommendations and adhere to best practices with diligence to avoid lawsuits and provide the best possible care for their patients.

Telemedicine Malpractice 

Telemedicine malpractice, like medical malpractice, occurs when a doctor fails to fulfill the established level of care, thereby harming the patient. Telemedicine lawsuits have the potential to broaden and include issues that do not generally emerge from in-person care.

The dangers of relying only on technology for accuracy are an example of this. When tampering with patient information by server glitches or malicious hackers happens, it can result in potentially horrible consequences. In these cases, a healthcare provider may be held accountable.

Furthermore, for telemedicine claims, the same rules apply as they do to any other medical negligence action. A patient is required to prove the existence of a doctor-patient relationship, that the doctor delivered inadequate care, and that the substandard care caused the patient’s injury causing monetary, bodily, or emotional damage. It is advisable to consult a seasoned medical malpractice attorney when dealing with telemedicine litigation.

Final Thought

As the number of people using healthcare services grows, so do the risks. The majority of this risk comes from malpractice claims filed against telehealth providers. To avoid this, if the provider has any suspicions that the online consultation of the patient was not very clear, they should advise the patient to get medical care in-person to avoid misdiagnosis.

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