Medical malpractice

Telemedicine Malpractice Claims

April 11, 2022 by James McHugh, Jr.
Telemedicine Malpractice Claims

Contrary to what many assume, telemedicine services are not simply a byproduct of the Coronavirus pandemic. Telemedicine and telehealth services were available to patients long before COVID-19 impacted nearly every facet of daily life; however, the rate at which patients consumed telehealth services changed dramatically during lockdowns, school closures, and overall unease. Due to social distancing recommendations and health and safety concerns, more patients began utilizing virtual healthcare appointments to address medical concerns and receive treatment – which opened the door to an increase in telemedicine malpractice claims. As telemedicine services became increasingly cemented as a part of our daily lives, concerns about the quality of care and the associated risks for medical malpractice have been heightened.

In addition, as access to healthcare in the United States remains complex, confusing, and expensive, technology companies are seeking to capitalize on the medical services marketplace. As part of this movement, technology entrepreneurs are developing applications that allow American patients to access equivalent or even superior healthcare at a fraction of the cost in other parts of the world. Providing international telemedicine services in this way makes the potential for medical malpractice in these scenarios even more complicated.

Why Telemedicine?

Telemedicine and telehealth have been a fixture for patients physically unable to attend in-person doctors’ appointments and follow-ups. It is also a primary way to provide healthcare to disabled and/or elderly citizens who live alone and/or need in-home assistance with daily duties. In 2018 alone, states that permit the use of telehealth reported that 95% of employers offered the service to employees who suffer from minor or non-urgent health issues. This is up from 14% of large employers nationwide offering telehealth services to employees in 2014, exemplifying the need for these services has expanded. While telehealth services can certainly be helpful and provide effective care, dramatic increases in use spurred by the Coronavirus pandemic have raised questions about patients who may be receiving less than the appropriate level of care, simply because it is being delivered via telehealth, and whether or not that substandard care rises to the level of telemedicine malpractice.

In April 2021, 64 percent of American households with broadband Internet service used telehealth services; of those, 34 percent reported they had to use telemedicine because it was their only option to see their provider, while significant segments also said they chose remote healthcare due to potential COVID-19 exposure and for convenience. Close to half of adults – 43 percent – indicated they wanted to continue to use telehealth services after the pandemic, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Causes of Telemedicine Malpractice

When it comes to medicine and treating patients, there is always room for error; however, when a provider’s negligence and wrongdoing result in a new or additional injury to a patient, that can be considered malpractice. Telehealth services, while convenient, are unable to replicate the same level of care as in-person visits. This is largely the reason why telehealth services are recommended for minor or non-urgent medical needs. With the implementation of social distancing and physician office closures during the coronavirus pandemic, patients began turning to telemedicine services for all of their regular health needs. This can result in catastrophic mistakes that cause patients to suffer by either delaying necessary treatment or providing unnecessary treatment.

Telehealth services are more commonly used by those with Medicaid and Medicare (with Medicare telehealth visits surging 63-fold during the pandemic), people of color, and low-income earning individuals. These patients have disproportionate access to stable Internet access and appropriate devices needed to make remote appointments truly successful. In addition, there are significant disparities in terms of audio versus video telemedicine use – with younger and wealthier patients with private insurance using video at rates staggeringly higher than those without a high school diploma, the elderly, and racial minorities.

The following could result in telemedicine medical malpractice:

  • Misdiagnosis: If a medical provider misdiagnoses or fails to diagnose a patient’s condition, this can be extremely harmful and even deadly. Without receiving the proper diagnosis – or diagnosis at all – it is impossible to provide quality care and treatment in a timely manner. Without the proper diagnosis, patients can suffer from their illness or injury for far longer than necessary, which could result in wrongful death.
  • Prescription Medication Errors: Healthcare professionals must conduct an extremely thorough history in order to safely prescribe medications. Telemedicine malpractice can come in the form of a patient being prescribed the wrong medication and/or the wrong dosage. These errors can have devastating effects on patient care and recovery; and, patients prescribed incorrect dosages can develop dependencies on prescription medication, causing further health issues and suffering.
  • Improper Follow-Up: The lack of appropriate follow-up to an initial virtual medical appointment is one of the biggest concerns coming with the increased use of telehealth medicine. As easy as it is to schedule and participate in telehealth sessions, it is just as easy not to follow up. Continued follow-ups are crucial in monitoring a patient’s health during recovery, as well as in monitoring the effectiveness of a treatment plan. When physicians and medical professionals fail to provide quality follow-up care, patients could be suffering unknowingly until a major health event occurs that could have been prevented.

For those who have used and/or plan to use telemedicine or virtual healthcare services, it’s important to document all sessions and treatment plans and to schedule follow-up sessions even if the physician, nurse, or other practitioner does not automatically do so. While a patient should not have to take on the due diligence of a medical professional, our current healthcare system is strained and the pressure on providers to quickly move from case to case could cost a patient their life.

Risks of International Telemedicine

As the access to remote healthcare only continues to skyrocket, there are additional, specific risks that come along with international telemedicine use, which will vary by patient, treatment, medical professional, and more. Some commonly identified dangers include:

  • Communication: Communicating with a foreign physician or medical staff may be hard. This can affect informed consent due to varying standards of medical ethics. Receiving care remotely from a provider whose language you do not speak fluently might increase the chance of medical errors and other issues.
  • Medication: Drugs with the same names and/or pharmacological construction may be of different quality in other countries with different drug safety standards. Having a provider in another country prescribe medications to you in America can create a dangerous scenario due to the use of differing manufacturers, brand names, measurements for dosing, and more.
  • Standards: Diverse standards for accrediting hospitals and physicians can be a problem, as each country usually has its own licensing and certification protocols.

Philadelphia Telemedicine Malpractice Lawyers

Regardless of how a patient receives medical care, the quality provided should not falter. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Philadelphia residents who have long suffered from inadequate healthcare and now continue to suffer via telemedicine malpractice. Careless mistakes cost more than just legal fees; these harmful actions have the potential to affect lives forever. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to get you the results you deserve. The combination of our attorneys’ skills and work ethic has resulted in courtroom and negotiation table successes for the firm across many medical malpractice matters, including misdiagnosis, birth injury, and more. If you or a loved one were a victim of medical malpractice, contact the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers of Lopez McHugh LLP today to discuss your case.

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