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Is the telemedicine trend fertile ground for medical malpractice?

When Dr. Phil launches a product or service, you know that it is going to get a lot of publicity, even if just through promotion on his TV show. And he and his son launched Doctor on Demand in 2013. Now insurers and others are jumping on the telemedicine bandwagon, much to the chagrin of many doctors and their professional associations.

In Connecticut, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has launched LiveHealth Online. But thus far, all of the online doctors who participate are not even located in Connecticut, even though they are all licensed in the state. Obviously, this means that residents of Connecticut who use the service have no chance of talking to their actual physician through the service, causing concerns about the need for continuity of care between doctors and patients.

Proponents of the service compare it to services such as in-store clinics in pharmacies, where patients may stop in for a minor health problem. But opponents even distinguish telemedicine from these types of treatment options.  At least someone actually physically examines the patient at these in-store clinics. Telemedicine doesn’t offer this option at all, and may even be limited by the facts communicated to the doctor by the patient, who may not even know the relevant information to pass along. In addition, a misdiagnosis or miscommunication may result in further medical issues due to a delayed diagnosis.

Connecticut lawmakers are considering laws that would restrict the services of tele-health providers. Senate Bill 467 has the following requirements:

  • the online doctor must have some knowledge of access to the patient’s medical records;
  • the medical practice must adhere to the standards of care to which doctors are held in their own offices; and
  • the patient must be informed of the limitations of the services and consent to treatment .

As the debate continues, questions regarding the potential of medical malpractice in telemedicine will be at the forefront of the opponents’ arguments against the services. Anyone who has been treated by a tele-health provider and believes that he or she was misdiagnosed or not properly treated may benefit from a consultation with an attorney who handles medical malpractice cases to determine any legal rights that may exist.

Source: Hartford Courant, “The Doctor Will See You Online: Telemedicine Rankles Some CT Physicians”, Matthew Sturdevant, May 18, 2015

Secondary source: Time, “Dr. Phil Startup Brings Check-Ups Online”, Alexandra Sifferlin, Dec. 10, 2013 

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