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Can Doctors Be Held Liable for Mistakes During Telemedicine/Virtual Visits?

April 15, 2024

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The widespread availability of fast internet access and camera-equipped laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones mean that telemedicine and virtual doctor appointments are more convenient, personal, and effective than ever before. These types of visits became more and more common during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for many patients, they have continued to be a convenient and safe way to speak with their doctors about their health problems.

However, as with any medical practice, there are potential pitfalls, including the possibility of medical errors, during these long-distance checkups. As with in-person examinations, doctors can make mistakes during telemedicine conferences and virtual visits with their patients. This leads many patients to wonder if their doctors be held liable for mistakes made during telemedicine or virtual visits.

Here’s what you need to know about this question if you or someone you love suffered a bad health outcome due to telemedicine or a virtual visit.

Understanding Telemedicine

Telemedicine involves the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit.

It can include everything from video conferencing with a doctor to using digital platforms for sending and receiving health information. While telemedicine offers convenience and accessibility, it also introduces unique challenges in diagnosing and treating patients, potentially leading to errors.

What Are the Potential Risks of Telemedicine?

Some of the potential risks for patients that are associated with telemedicine and virtual visits include:

  • Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis: One of the main concerns with telemedicine is the potential for misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Without physical exams and the ability to conduct certain tests in-person and in real-time, healthcare providers might miss subtle signs of a condition or misinterpret symptoms, leading to incorrect treatment plans.
  • Privacy and Security Concerns: Telemedicine involves the transmission of personal health information over the internet. This raises concerns about data privacy and security, especially if the telehealth platform does not comply with health information privacy laws or if there is a data breach.
  • Technical Issues: Technical problems such as poor internet connectivity, software glitches, or hardware failures can interrupt telehealth services, potentially affecting the quality of care. For instance, a dropped connection during a crucial part of the consultation could lead to misunderstandings or incomplete advice.
  • Over-reliance on Technology: There is a risk that both patients and healthcare providers may over-rely on telemedicine, potentially neglecting the importance of in-person visits when they are necessary for comprehensive evaluations, certain diagnostic tests, or treatments that cannot be delivered remotely.
  • Patient-Provider Relationship Challenges: Building a strong patient-provider relationship can be more challenging in a virtual environment. Non-verbal cues are harder to interpret, and the personal connection may feel less strong, which could impact patient satisfaction and trust.

Liability in Telemedicine

A healthcare provider may be held liable for malpractice if it can be proven that the provider failed to meet the standard of care expected in their profession, leading to harm to the patient.

Malpractice claims involving telemedicine and virtual visits include the following considerations:

  • Standard of Care: The rapid evolution of technology and the growing acceptance of virtual visits makes telemedicine a legitimate form of healthcare delivery. The standard of care for these types of visits encompasses the healthcare provider's duty to competently diagnose and offer treatment options for patients’ conditions within the constraints of the telemedicine format.
  • Documentation and Consent: Documentation and informed consent are crucial in telemedicine. Providers must ensure that they accurately document the patient's condition, the advice given, and the limitations of a virtual visit. Patients should be made aware of the risks associated with telemedicine, including the possibility of misdiagnosis due to the lack of physical examination.
  • Technology and Security: Liability can also arise from technical issues, such as poor video quality leading to a missed diagnosis, or breaches in patient confidentiality due to insecure communication channels. Healthcare providers must ensure that the technology they use is reliable and compliant with healthcare privacy laws, such as HIPAA in the United States.

What Are Ohio’s Laws Concerning Liability in Telemedicine?

Ohio's approach to telemedicine and doctor liability is guided by both the State Medical Board of Ohio's regulations and Ohio Medicaid policies. The State Medical Board has established rules ensuring that healthcare providers practicing telemedicine are held to the same standards of care as those providing in-person medical services.

Furthermore, the Board mandates that healthcare professionals providing telemedicine services to Ohio residents must be licensed to practice in the state, although they do not necessarily need to be located within Ohio. This requirement aims to ensure that all telemedicine practitioners meet Ohio's professional standards, even if they are providing services from outside the state.

Contact Our Ohio Medical Malpractice Attorneys

Proving medical malpractice occurred is often a challenge for even the most experienced law firms. And when the malpractice may have occurred because of a misdiagnosis or negligent treatment plan made over a telemedicine conference or virtual visit, it can be even more difficult. Even minor hiccups in connection, sound, or video quality can result in an incomplete diagnosis or explanation, which can potentially result in patient harm.

If you or someone you love suffered a poor health outcome after a telemedicine conference or virtual visit, we want to hear from you. Contact the Ohio medical practice lawyers at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy today for a free consultation. We’ll put our decades of experience to work as we determine if malpractice occurred and fight to protect your rights to full compensation.

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