Telehealth and the Risks of Medical Malpractice

Meri BrickMarch 31, 20224 minute read

Over the past couple of decades, telehealth has slowly been inching its way into daily medical practice. Only in the last couple of years did it finally make its big leap and stick the landing in healthcare. With its increasing popularity, providers and healthcare organizations have started to notice the increased risk of medical malpractice with virtual care. With these visits solely relying on technology, there of course are going to be some extra obstacles.

In this blog, we are going to be covering what medical malpractice is, the most common risks of malpractice with telehealth, and some tips and tricks to avoid a malpractice suit. So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

Medical Malpractice Overview

Before we dive into the medical malpractice risks that come with telehealth, we need to start with the basics like defining medical malpractice. According to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor, or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient.

Injury is a broad term and doesn’t only mean bodily harm. This can include loss of income, suffering, hardship, or significant bills. In other words, if it violates the standard of care required for providers when giving care to patients, it can result in a medical malpractice suit, loss of license, or a hefty fine.

So, what does the standard of care include? Bloomberg Law states that “providers may be held liable for breaching the standard of care if patients are harmed during telehealth visits, due to provider’s negligent act or omission, miscommunication, misdiagnosis, software malfunctions or other technologically-based risks that threaten the patient’s welfare.”

Common Medical Malpractice Risks with Telehealth

Now that we know what medical malpractice is and the consequences it can present, let's get into some of the common medical malpractice risks that come with telehealth.

Misdiagnosis

The biggest risk of malpractice in telehealth is misdiagnosis. In fact, 45% of all telehealth medical malpractice claims are for misdiagnosis of cancer, stroke, and infection. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons but the biggest one is technology. Whether it’s a poor connection or just glitchy audio or video streaming, technology failures can completely alter what the patient is saying and therefore the diagnosis.

But, have no fear! There are a few steps that both the provider and patient can follow to help mitigate this risk.

  1. Test your audio and video before your appointment.

  2. Pick a location to take your appointment with a stable, high-speed internet connection.

  3. Ask clarifying questions throughout the appointment to ensure you are understanding and hearing correctly what the other party is saying.

Data Security

Another risk of malpractice comes in the form of data security. With telehealth being heavily reliant on technology, data security is a major concern. There are a few security concerns that providers have identified when conducting their telemedicine visits including:

  1. Trusting and relying on technology software to securely see their patients.

  2. As mentioned earlier, relying on technology to accurately make a diagnosis and recommendation for the patient.

  3. Incorrectly storing patient data and leaving it vulnerable to being hacked.

Although it might seem tricky to decrease this risk, it's actually quite simple! The best way to decrease this risk is to do the following with your organization's technology software…

  • Maintain and update the software frequently.

  • Conduct risk assessments on a regular basis.

  • Protect the software with firewalls.

Privacy Protection

Just like in-person healthcare services and facilities, HIPAA compliance is required for virtual services and telehealth organizations. With everything being stored virtually with telemedicine, it may be even more important for providers and others accessing patient information to have full knowledge of HIPAA rules, protocols, and protections.

Some good rules of thumb to follow if you are seeing patients virtually as a provider or organization include:

  • Yearly training and review of HIPAA rules and regulations.

  • Create a detailed procedure and protocol document for all employees and providers to follow when handling patient data.

  • Define your organization's breach response in the event of leaked or stolen data to prevent the accumulation of compliance penalties and liabilities.

The Wrap Up

Although the risk of medical malpractice may be slightly higher with virtual care, there are steps you can take to easily avoid getting wrapped up in a malpractice lawsuit. Now, before you go! We would love to introduce OpenLoop.

OpenLoop is a health tech leader delivering full-stack, white-labeled clinical support to companies scaling virtual care services across the nation. Essentially, we take care of all the back-office tasks so you can focus on serving more patients in need of care. What are those back office challenges? Our full suite of telehealth support services include…

  • Regulatory & legal

  • Provider staffing

  • Technology platform

  • Revenue cycle management

  • Practice management

Interested in what tasks are under these services? We’d love to set up a time to chat and dive deeper into what we can offer your organization! Get in touch here.

Media Contact

Jess Greiner Director, Marketing
jess@openloophealth.com
641.780.1114