7 Considerations for Providers of Telemedicine Care

By Trevor Williams, Commercial Risk Advisor

Unrecognizable senior male doctor with smartphone at the office, text messaging.

Telemedicine remains at the vanguard of current trends in the healthcare system. Providers who expand their service offerings to follow this trend reap benefits such as approved reimbursement by third-party payers and augmented cash flow due to surging patient demand. Statistics such as doubled usage from 2007 to 2015 and future predictions of 160 million patient interactions in 2020 compared with the 20 million now, accurately depict this surging demand. However, before providers jump to engage in telemedicine offerings, they should contemplate the following medical professional liability risks.  

1. Licensure

Only a small percentage of states allow special licenses for telemedicine care that can cross borders with the remaining majority requiring full licensure. It’s crucial to ensure providers are appropriately licensed in the patient’s physical location to avoid penalties issued by state medical boards.  

2. Informed Consent

The patient must first understand and agree to the risks and benefits of telemedicine before care is delivered. Any interaction that lacks informed consent poses a higher risk of proven negligence in a medical malpractice claim scenario.

3. Technology

Any technology that relies on the internet can suffer from power outages and connectivity issues. If either of these occurs in an active telemedicine consultation, the risk of diagnosis delays and patient dissatisfaction would be amplified. 

4. Patient Privacy

Providers must maintain the security of PHI to comply with HIPAA considering that regulatory coverage is often included in medical malpractice policies. Virtual care technology vendors act as an intermediary in the consultation, forcing providers to depend on their cybersecurity protocols and increasing their medical regulatory liability risk.  

5. Coverage Territory

Location is one of the main exposure factors for any medical malpractice policy. Therefore, coverage may not be afforded to areas outside the provider’s home state depending on the policy language. 

6. Patient Satisfaction

Dissatisfied patients are more prone to file lawsuits alleging medical malpractice whether it’s due to technical issues, lack of in-person interaction or other downsides of telemedicine care.  

7. Relationship Commencement and Dissolution

Determining the allocation of liability between the provider and third-party vendor could be difficult if the vendor delays connecting both parties and causes a postponement in treatment or diagnosis delivery. Additionally, the patient might assume an ongoing relationship even after the consultation ends which increases exposure to medical malpractice risk.

Although telemedicine presents an excellent opportunity for healthcare providers to expand their service offerings, participants must be cautious of the inherent risks. Medical professional liability risks associated with telemedicine care can be mitigated with the appropriate risk controls. If you’re interested in offering telemedicine to your patients or would like a review of your current offering, contact a BKS Healthcare Advisor to take a consultative approach in examining medical professional liability risk and protecting your practice. 

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