Telehealth and Medical Malpractice: 
Understanding the Risks and Benefits

Patient talking to doctor via computer

Telemedicine has significantly changed the landscape of healthcare, offering tremendous benefits, especially for those in remote areas or those looking to avoid exposure to infectious diseases. With its rapid expansion, especially post-pandemic, accessing healthcare has never been easier. Virtual consultations, remote monitoring, and online prescription services have made it possible for patients to receive care from the comfort of their homes. However, while telehealth provides convenience and accessibility, it also brings potential risks that patients need to be aware of, particularly regarding medical malpractice.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth, or telemedicine, encompasses a variety of practices where healthcare services are delivered remotely. Anytime a healthcare provider offers care without an in-person visit, it qualifies as telehealth. This includes:

  • Video calls or phone consultations: Direct communication with a healthcare provider.
  • Secure messaging systems: Exchanging information via secure messaging platforms.
  • Remote monitoring: Using devices to monitor a patient's condition from a distance.

Providers use telehealth for a wide array of services, from sharing lab results and monitoring chronic conditions to providing follow-ups post-surgery. Recently, telehealth is also being used to address urgent care needs, manage medications, and provide mental health and physical therapy sessions.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth, a trend that continues due to cost efficiency and convenience. Doctors can see more patients virtually, reducing overhead costs, and insurance companies benefit from lower claim costs. This trend is likely to persist, potentially making in-person appointments harder to secure and more expensive.

Challenges and Risks of Telehealth

One major challenge with telehealth is the limitation on the amount of information healthcare providers can gather. Unlike in-person visits, doctors cannot perform physical examinations, which are crucial for diagnosing certain conditions. For example, a physician cannot palpate an abdomen to check for tenderness or masses during a virtual consultation.

The quality of the video and audio during telehealth visits can also be problematic, potentially leading to misdiagnosis. Patients might also inadvertently omit important information when communicating through a screen, which could be critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Legal Considerations and Protecting Against Malpractice

The legal framework for telehealth is still evolving, with different states having varied regulations. This variability can complicate matters, especially for patients receiving care across state lines, leading to jurisdictional confusion if a malpractice claim arises.

Healthcare providers must adhere to the same standards of care as in-person visits, ensuring that patients receive appropriate treatment regardless of the medium. However, the participation of out-of-state doctors can complicate malpractice claims, particularly if different states have different standards and requirements.

Patients should be proactive in sharing comprehensive medical histories and seeking second opinions when necessary. Healthcare providers need to recognize the limitations of telehealth and advise in-person visits when they lack sufficient information to make informed decisions. Failure to do so can lead to potential malpractice claims.

Ensuring Safety and Accountability

Telehealth brings many advantages, but it's essential to remain vigilant about its risks. Patients are entitled to the same standard of care in telehealth as they would receive in person. If you or a loved one has experienced harm due to a telehealth-related medical error, you may be entitled to compensation for the resulting pain and suffering.

At Salenger, Sack, Kimmel, and Bavaro LLP, we are dedicated to helping you navigate the complexities of medical malpractice legal issues. Whether you need legal advice or have concerns about your rights, we are here to assist. Connect with us for a free consultation by calling 800-675-8556.